Union News

Two Victorian workers killed

1 - Driver killed at Werribee South
Emergency services were called to the Princes Freeway following reports a semi-trailer had struck a rope wire barrier and rolled about 3.20am on Monday November 4. Tragically, the 38-year-old driver from Clifton Springs, died at the scene.  The crash led to a lengthy closure of some lanes of the Princes Freeway. The semi-trailer was fully loaded and carrying a dodgem car in the 100kmh zone.

Sergeant Ben Tayler from the Westgate Highway Patrol said, “The semi-trailer left the road from the left hand lane and hit the crash barriers which did a great job of slowing it down. The driver was unable to regain control of the vehicle which ultimately rolled over. It went down a 10-foot embankment, and ended up about 20m from the side of the road, upside down." He added “My understanding is that it was an instant death.”

2 - Young boxer dies in training incident
Local fighter Dwight Ritchie has died in a training incident in Melbourne on Saturday November 9. The 27 year old boxer was taking part in a sparring session ahead of his re-match with former world champion Jeff Horn, when he took a punch to the body, went back to his corner, collapsed and could not be revived. Following the death, boxing legend Jeff Fenech has said that the training culture inside Australia's boxing gyms needs to change. Fenech is urging trainers to show more care for their fighters and wants gyms around the country to invest in defibrillators.
Read more: 'A spar is not to kill each other': Fenech blasts training culture Sydney Morning Herald

The VTHC sends its condolences to the family, friends and colleagues of these workers. These deaths bring the number of Victorian workers killed this year to 29. It should be remembered that WorkSafe Victoria's official figures do not include workplace deaths that occur as a result of road accidents. It's just one reason why the real number of people killed as a result of their work is much larger than the recorded figures would indicate.

Industrial Manslaughter: Trades Hall responds to employer statement

With the Industrial Manslaughter Bill currently being debated in the Victorian Lower House, not unexpectedly employer groups have been lobbying for changes. In a statement released yesterday, Luke Hilakari, VTHC Secretary, supported the bill in its current form. He said, "This bill will save lives. It is disappointing, though not surprising, that there are some employer groups worried about the cost of fines they might receive when they negligently cause a worker's death. But our Parliament must have the common sense to put the lives of Victorians first."

In response to the employers' position that the new laws must cover employees as well, the VTHC statement points out that currently, if an employee is criminally negligent and they kill someone, the Crimes Act can be used to prosecute them. However, the Crimes Act cannot be used to prosecute a company or a senior manager hiding behind the corporate veil. The Workplace Manslaughter Bill is designed to fix this loophole. 

Mr Hilakari said, "Bosses who have total control over the workplace need to stop shirking their responsibility when they are criminally negligent. They are the ones cutting the safety budgets, setting unreasonable deadlines, managing the work processes, and ignoring worker concerns over safety. Good bosses have nothing to fear from this bill - and bad bosses are on notice." 

The families affected by workplace deaths have also issued a statement in support of the bill the Andrews government has tabled. They say, "We are calling on our elected representatives and the business community in Victoria to recognise and understand the significant implications the loss of our family members has on us. This should not be a discussion around semantics – in the end it is a moral issue and we believe employers, big, small or in-between should take their moral and legal responsibility of providing a safe workplace more seriously. The size of the workplace does not matter; we all have a right to see the serious issue of safety at work seen as a priority. Every employer should be prioritising worker’s safety 100% of the time. It is a matter of life and death."

The statment also points out the current loophole in the law: they have "seen employers get a slap on the wrist fine after killing a worker... These workplace manslaughter laws close that loophole and will ensure that criminally negligent employers are brought to justice. We also hope these consequences result in employers taking their responsibilities even more seriously than they do currently and therefore prevent needless deaths."
Read more: Workplace Industrial Manslaughter To Be Enshrined In Law, Victorian government media release; Justice for the bereaved. Protection for workers, VTHC media release on Twitter; Statement On behalf of affected families and all those taken too soon; Joint employer group media release

Manufactured stone: time to ban it?

The National Dust Disease Taskforce which has been holding consultation meetings around Australia over the past few weeks, is now preparing to read submissions on how best to handle the resurgence of the fatal lung disease silicosis. The VTHC participated in one of these public consultations.  Over the past couple of years, the VTHC has been running a campaign to lower the exposure standard to  0.025 mg/m³ as an 8hr TWA - currently it is 0.1 mg/m³. This must be done as soon as possible to ensure better protection for workers in the industry now - but the only way of ensuring their long-term health is for the product, which is manufactured overseas, to be banned outright. We are not alone in this position.

In a very informative article reprinted this week in The Conversation, two very respected academics, Lin Fritschi, Professor of Epidemiology, and Alison Reid, Associate Professor, Epidemiology and Biostatistics, both from Curtin University, argue the same position. "We argue it is feasible to ban artificial stone, which is not made in Australia but imported. There are many alternatives, such as natural stone, or Betta Stone made from recycled glass."
Read more: Engineered stone benchtops are killing our tradies. Here’s why a ban’s the only answer, The Conversation. More information on Silica.

Ask Renata

Each summer we get many, many queries regarding drinking water. Here's one that came in last week.

Hi Renata,

I work outside 100 per cent of the time and it can get very hot during summer but my boss refuses to offer cool/cold water. We have tap water and filtered tap water but during summer it's very warm and hard to drink. Is that an OHS issue or is warm filtered tap water fine?

Well, employers have a legal duty under s21(2)(d) of the OHS Act to provide 'adequate facilities' which covers providing water, even though this is not specifically mentioned. However, the Compliance Code sets out very clearly what employers 'need to do' in order to comply. The code states that the water needs to be “cool and palatable”  – see Drinking Water on the site.

The other issue I’m concerned about though, is that you say that you work outside 100 per of the time, including in summer. There are issues here to do with both heat and also UV radiation. Check out the following pages for more information

  1. Heat FAQ and longer Heat hazard page
  2. UV radiation

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

Mental illness: fastest growing workplace injury in Australia

On October 31, the Productivity Commission released its draft report on Mental Health. The ACTU responded by saying the report illustrates the immense cost of mental illness, which independent research shows is the fastest growing type of workplace injury in Australia.  The peak union council has welcomed some of the Productivity Commission’s recommendations around workers’ compensation including no-liability treatment for mental health injuries and claims and improving the role of the workers’ compensation system in rehabilitation and return-to-work for psychological injury across industries.

The draft report broadly mirrors some of the recommendations made in the recent review into Australia’s model work health safety laws, which the ACTU supports.

ACTU Assistant Secretary Liam O’Brien, said “Work is a significant contributing factor, both positively and negatively, to people’s mental health. It must be at the centre of our efforts to reduce the incidence of mental ill-health." A survey conducted by the ACTU this year found that more than 60 per cent of respondents had experienced mental ill-health because their employer had failed to manage psycho-social hazards in their workplace. Mr O''Brien said, “A huge number of Australians suffer mental health issues every year because of stressors and other hazards they encounter in their workplace, and the evidence indicates that these people rarely receive support or compensation in the way that would be routine for physical injuries. This has to change. Mental health hazards at work should be treated the same as physical hazards. We need strong laws that protect people at work”
Read more: ACTU media release. Download the Productivity Commission's Draft Report here.

November 28: Feminism in the Pub - Eliminating Gendered Violence at Work 

As part of the 16 days of Activism against gender based violence, Feminism in the Pub is celebrating women fighting for everyone to be physically and mentally safe at work. The VTHC Women's and Equity Team and activists invite you to attend the next event which will be on November 28. The topic: Eliminating Gendered Violence at Work will be of great interest to HSRs. There will be a panel and discussion on safe and inclusive workplaces, gendered violence as a workplace hazard and collective action. The event will be co-facilitated by Renata from the OHS Team. One of the panel members is our own Vasalia Govender, HSR.

When: 6.30pm, Thursday November 28
Where: Clyde Hotel, 365 Cardigan St, Carlton
Cost: Free - drinks and food at your own expense - but please RSVP at Union Women

Asbestos news

NSW & QLD: warning fire damaged homes may contain asbestos
As fires rage across eastern Australia, those whose homes have been damaged by these fires face another potential hazard: asbestos. The Asbestos Diseases Foundation of Australia has warned that a high proportion of homes built before 1987 contain asbestos products, while the use of asbestos fibro sheeting was particularly prevalent in farm sheds and outbuildings.

ADFA president Barry Robson said the intense heat from bushfires often shatters bonded asbestos products, allowing the deadly fibres to mix with ash and other debris and become airborne. "As people return to their homes it is a natural instinct to search through the remains for cherished possessions that may have survived the blaze, but it is essential that people protect themselves and their families from potential dangers,” Mr Robson said.
Read more: ADFA Media release

Indonesia: experts fear a coming cancer 'explosion'
Although Australia banned asbestos almost two decades ago, it is still killing hundreds of Australians. Statistics released by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) reveal that at least 699 people died last year from mesothelioma, caused by asbestos exposure (SafetyNet 502). But to the north of us, builders and factories across Indonesia are still using asbestos in massive volumes, oblivious to the danger. It has been estimated that asbestos exposure kills about 60,000 people each year in Asia. Currently Indonesia is the second-biggest asbestos importer in the world with up to 10 per cent of all buildings there containing chrysotile, or white asbestos. The government position is that it is up to the building industry to stop using it - ignoring warnings from the World Health Organization (WHO) of an ‘epidemic’ of asbestos-related diseases in South-East Asia.

Yet as many countries are moving towards banning asbestos, those advocating bans in Asia are facing a concerted campaign by an industry lobby group to promote white asbestos as 'safe', going so far as to falsely claim that the proven carcinogen dissolves in the lungs after 14 days. The asbestos lobby has also been targetting and seeking to discredit the work of Union Aid Abroad-APHEDA, an Australian union-based non-government organisation which has been running a 'ban asbestos in Asia' campaign over the past few years.

Australia's Asbestos Safety and Eradication Agency (ASEA) says this heavy use of asbestos in South East Asia and the claims from the asbestos lobby group illustrate the importance of Australia’s international work to ban asbestos. ASEA's position is unambiguous: “It is clear that chrysotile can cause mesothelioma, other cancers and other forms of asbestos-related disease,” said ASEA CEO Justine Ross. The agency is working with government and non-government partners across SE Asia to spread this information.

Phillip Hazelton, Asia Campaign Coordinator for the Elimination of Asbestos Related Diseases at Union Aid Abroad – APHEDA said, “Australia understands the tragic legacy of asbestos all too well and we have a duty to show strong international leadership to end asbestos use. As an organisation of the Australian Union movement we’re proud of the legacy of the hard-fought battles to win an asbestos ban in Australia and just compensation for those with asbestos diseases." ACTU Assistant Secretary Liam O’Brien, said “We call on the Morrison Government to take action to protect the health of working people across Asia, including in Australia by taking immediate action at home and leading reform internationally.”
Read more: White asbestos lines many Indonesian buildings and health experts fear a coming cancer ‘explosion’, Intellasia.net. Union Aid Abroad - APHEDA media release, ACTU media release. ASEA media release. Continuing asbestos use in Indonesia is a public health time bomb, Mirage news

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

Deliveroo riders want HSRs

Deliveroo food delivery riders have sent the gig economy company letters demanding that it comply with its WHS obligations and tackle the risks they face, like collisions with cars, falls and heat stress, according to the Transport Workers Union. They have given Deliveroo two weeks to comply with its WHS duty to allow riders to set up work groups and elect health and safety representatives, who will have the power to enforce safety obligations and direct workers to cease unsafe work (as per section 85 of the Commonwealth WHS Act, for example), the TWU said. This comes after the deaths of at least four food delivery riders at work in Australia in recent months, it said.

TWU national secretary Michael Kaine said: “Since arriving in Australia, Deliveroo has stripped workers of their rights: There are no guaranteed hourly rates, delivery distances have increased causing a 30-40 per cent drop in pay, and the company has terminated workers without warning or the chance to appeal. While our industrial laws are facilitating this stripping away of rights the workplace health and safety laws are robust and we expect Deliveroo to be held to account on safety.”The union has worked with delivery riders for two years to expose exploitation in the gig economy, forming a group called the Delivery Riders Alliance. A survey of food delivery riders found almost 50 per cent of riders had either been injured on the job or knew someone who had.

International Union news
UK: NUJ push to end impunity for crimes against journalists
The journalists’ union NUJ has contacted ambassadors and other country representatives in the UK to press for an end to crimes against journalists and the impunity of those responsible. The union is focussing on a number of countries this year as part of the global campaign – the Democratic Republic of Congo, Malta, Yemen, India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Mexico, Palestine/Israel, Peru, Philippines and Ukraine.

Michelle Stanistreet, NUJ general secretary, said: “Most countries around the world are failing to protect journalists.” She added, “Without safety and protection in place for journalists, without justice for all those who have been killed, we cannot have a free society or a free press”. Ahead of the 2 November international day to end impunity for crimes against journalists, global journalists’ union IFJ launched a three week campaign to expose the “staggering” levels of impunity for crimes against journalists and the lack of international action to combat the rising tide of threats and abuse faced worldwide. The IFJ campaign will run until Saturday 23 November, the anniversary of the Ampatuan massacre in the Philippines, in which at least 32 media workers were killed.
Read more: NUJ news release and IFJ campaign and toolkit. Source: Risks 922

TUC guide on responding to work-related stress
The TUC, the UK's peak union council, has issued updated guidance for union safety reps on work-related stress. The guide takes into account the UK's regulator, the HSE conceding to union demands that it should also investigate cases of harassment and bullying where management’s wider organisational failings are a contributory factor.
Read more: Responding to harmful work-related stress, TUC, November 2019. Tackling stress workbook, stress management standards and other HSE workplace stress resources. More information on Stress

New diesel exhaust fume risk prevention guide
A new resource “to help workers protect themselves from dangerous diesel engine exhaust emissions (DEEEs)” has been launched by IOSH, the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health. IOSH notes: “DEEEs can cause lung cancer, asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. The card advises people working with or around diesel-powered equipment or vehicles to turn off engines if not needed, use tailpipe exhaust extraction systems, use workplace air extraction, wear a mask, and get trained.” The safety professionals’ organisation “also advises people who drive for work, such as couriers, truck or taxi drivers to close the windows in their vehicle.” Resources published last year by the TUC and Hazards magazine also highlight other health risks related to diesel exhaust exposure, including heart disease, eye, nose and throat irritation and brain damage. The TUC resource includes a prevention checklist for union safety reps.
Read more: IOSH news release and pocket card for workers on how to prevent exposure to DEEEs. UNION RESOURCES: Diesel exhaust in the workplace: A TUC guide for trade union activists, October 2018. Fuming feature, Diesel out prevention factsheet and Die diesel die pin-up-at-work poster. Hazards 144, October-December 2018. Source: Risks 922. Diesel information on this site


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