Union News

Victorian HSRs and deputies: October 29 HSR Conference

There are now over 1600 HSRs (and deputies) who have registered to come to our 2019 conference! 

The Conference for Health and Safety Representatives (HSRs) is the biggest Health and Safety Month event in Australia and has approval under s69 of the Victorian OHS Act meaning employers must allow elected HSRs to attend on paid leave. So if you haven't done so already, register now! The conference is being held on Tuesday October 29, with the theme of "Emerging Issues - Safe and Inclusive Workplaces".

This year we will be running the conference in more non-metropolitan Melbourne locations, so it will be easier for HSRs in country Victoria 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. 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 - the deadline was last week. However, many employers will still allow HSRs to attend on paid leave and 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 Victoria.

FREE posters for the conference are available now - we have lots of these available and if you'd like some, contact OHSCampaigns@vthc.org.au. 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.

Ask Renata

Hi Renata,

I was wondering whether there is a minimum size requirement for staff laptops that have been provided for work use.

There’s nothing specific in the OHS Act or the regulations which addresses laptops – our Act and regs are objective based, so this means employers must "so far as is reasonably practicable, ensure that there is an ‘absence of risk’ in connection to the use, etc of equipment (plant)" – s21(2)(b). Also, the employer has a duty to consult with HSRs (with or without employees) when proposing changes to plant or other things (s35(f)).

What I would recommend is establishing a working group to look into the options, identify any potential risks with any of them, organise a trial, and so on. It would also be worth doing a bit of research and getting advice from an ergonomist. There’s a little bit of information on this page  -  but not very much.

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

Asbestos news

Asbestos find illustrates ongoing problems
Last Friday workers in protective clothing continued removing asbestos next to an Altona North childcare centre, two weeks after it was first revealed. WorkSafe Victoria is investigating after the asbestos was left exposed at the Millers Road construction site next to the Early Learners centre. Such incidents illustrate how much of a problem 'in situ' asbestos still is in Australia.

The asbestos was discovered on land being developed by the Greek Orthodox Community of Hobsons Bay by an official from the Construction, Forestry, Maritime, Mining and Energy Union who was visiting another worksite nearby. The union’s Victorian occupational health and safety unit manager Gerry Ayers said the childcare centre had been told not to let children play outside. “We have advised the management of the childcare centre next door that children should not play outside until further notice,” he said. “And that they register their potential asbestos exposure through the national asbestos, dust, fumes and chemicals register. In this day and age, it is atrocious …knowingly exposing preschool children to this toxic hazard just beggars belief.”
Source: The Star Weekly

USA: Johnson & Johnson recalls baby powder
Last Saturday Johnson & Johnson announced a voluntary recall of its talc-based baby powder products, after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration found traces of asbestos in sample testing. The recall follows legal losses and an investigative report linking asbestos exposure to the company’s talc products.

The recall will affect only one lot of baby powder, which nevertheless amounts up to 33,000 bottles. According to the company, it was prompted by the FDA finding “sub-trace levels of chrysotile asbestos contamination” in a sample taken from a bottle bought online; another lot tested by the FDA turned up negative. There seem to have been no reports of injury linked to the products. But in a statement by the company Saturday, the company said that the recall was made “out of an abundance of caution. The source article notes that it is unlikely that any of this 'batch' of bottles was sold in Australia. The company has faced  more than 14,000 alleging the baby powder caused mesothelioma and ovarian cancer.  Read more: Gizmodo More on this and the troubles of Johnson & Johnson in The Daily Mail.

ASEA Conference: Perth 11 - 13 November
The 2019 Asbestos Safety Conference, at the Perth Convention and Exhibition Centre, is coming up soon.  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.

UK: Ambulance staff facing ‘epidemic’ of mental ill-health

A survey of ambulance staff has revealed they are suffering mental health problems at ‘epidemic’ levels. The initial findings from the union Unite are based on responses from the 550 members have so far taken part in its survey. Unite found over half of ambulance staff have suffered from anxiety (54 per cent) while 44 per cent recorded they had suffered from depression. Two-thirds (67 per cent) described being excessively irritable or angry and over three quarters (77 per cent) reported they were suffering from stress. Nearly a fifth (17 per cent) of respondents also reported trauma as a result of their work responding to life-threatening emergencies.

The staff also registered other problems including tiredness (89 per cent), problems with sleep (85 per cent), generalised aches and pains (70 per cent), poor diet/loss of appetite (64 per cent), headaches (55 per cent) and gastric problems (54 per cent). Workers recorded the primary reasons for experiencing stress at work as excessive workloads, unrealistic targets, late finishes, the lack of flexible working and a lack of consultation on changes at work. Nearly a third of respondents reported having been diagnosed with a mental health problem and the vast majority of those said that their work contributed significantly to causing their mental health problem or to making it worse. Nearly two-thirds (64 per cent) reported missing days of work over the last 12 months as a result, with the same proportion stating their employer was not supportive or understanding to people with mental health issues. 

Unite national officer for health Colenzo Jarrett Thorpe said: “Unite will use the findings of the report to lobby individual trusts to remove the pressure from workers and tackle the mental ill-health epidemic which is afflicting our members.” Read more: Unite news release. Source: Risks 919.

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