Union News

Update: Industrial Manslaughter

      This morning we gathered on the steps of Victoria's Parliament House in a final push to achieve Industrial Manslaughter legislation.

In memory of the those killed at work over the past five years, 136 boots and shoes, each tagged with the details of the fatality, were placed on the steps of parliament. These represented just the official WorkSafe numbers - and did not include workers killed in truck crashes or on roads, or in some other circumstances: so the actual number of fatalities is in fact much higher.

The Industrial Manslaughter Bill will be debated this afternoon in Victoria's Upper House (the Legislative Council). The bill is listed as first order of the day under government business starting at 2pm. It is crucial that some of the cross-benchers vote in favour of the bill, as the Liberal Party voted against it in the Lower House and will do so in the Council as well.

In lead up to this week both the Opposition and groups such as the Victorian Farmers Federation have been making misleading and frankly dishonest statements about what the new laws will mean. Opposition Leader Michael O’Brien said the Government’s proposed legislation was unfair to family businesses. “For example, a husband-and-wife farming enterprise that tragically sees the death of the husband in a farm accident could see the wife being sent to prison under Labor’s laws,” he said. “Families suffering tragedy should not have the added threat of jail hanging over their heads.”

The reality is that WorkSafe's current compliance and enforcement policy means that family farms are not prosecuted in the tragic circumstance of a death - it would not be in the public interest to do so. Barry Naismith, of OHSIntros, points out: "Since 1990, 81 farming enterprises have been prosecuted over breaches of OHS law. This is out of more than 2500 prosecutions. Of the 81 cases, only 25 have been over a death at work at a 'farm'. All of those prosecutions have been corporate agricultural enterprises, not family farms. In most cases these corporate entities have pleaded guilty to a basic breach of OHS law when the facts are presented. These crimes have been appalling and inexcusable."

It appears that the Opposition will be tabling 18 amendments - no doubt seeking exemption of farms and small businesses, and the inclusion of workers. Parliament rises for the year on Friday so this may be a delaying tactic. The government is committed to introducing this legislation now. Andy Meddick, MP, of the Animal Justice Party, is a strong supporter of the legislation, and was at the steps this morning to show his support. Minister for Workplace Safety, Jill Hennessy, released a video today, to mark the bill going to the Upper House. It is hoped that the efforts of families and unions over the past two years to achieve fair legislation will mean that Victoria will be the latest state to have Industrial Manslaughter laws.  Make sure you check our Facebook pages, and the journal next week for the outcome.

New discussion paper: Deaths at work 2018

A new OHS discussion paper from OHSIntros (Barry Naismith) is now available to download - free for a limited time - from this link. The 11th paper in a series, “23. Deaths at work. Victoria 2018”, looks at one of the most extraordinary years in the state’s OHS history. This was the year of “Delacombe”, the second public campaign over industrial manslaughter laws and a high profile for the Victorian death toll in the national Senate inquiry over work-related death. The confluence of those streams created a story that had to be told. The discussion paper records the year in three books over 120 pages. It begins with a foreword by one of the figures who has played a leading role in raising issues over prevention, compliance and enforcement in Victoria, and continues to - Dr Lana Cormie. It is through the advocacy of Dr Cormie, and others during 2018, that testing questions were asked about the real impact of harm and the meaning of justice over death at work. These questions were debated like never before. The paper will be available until the end of January 2020.

Ask Renata

We continue to get a wide variety of questions.. Here's one that came in last week - answered by the OHS Unit Lead Organiser, Dr Paul Sutton.


As a sales rep, I drive 45,000 km a year. I would like to know whether a small front wheel drive car a safe car to be driving on dirt roads, farms and building sites. 95 per cent of my driving is on regional roads. I feel a bigger vehicle such as a dual cab for regional and dirt roads would be a better suit. Can you provide me with some advice please?

That’s a lot of kilometres! Under the OHS Act, your employer has a duty of care to provide the highest standard of safety so far as is reasonably practicable. What this is in this particular circumstance will lie in how often you are driving off road. The highest level of safety would be provided by having four wheel drive when on a dirt road. However, if you are only on the dirt road once a year, it might not be reasonably practicable to provide you with a four wheel drive capable vehicle.

If you think that you drive off road often enough to require a four wheel drive capable vehicle, then I would recommend that you raise this as an OHS issue under s73 of the OHS Act. This will achieve two things for you:

  1. Your employer has to meet with you about the matter.
  2. If you do not get a satisfactory outcome, you can then request that WorkSafe attend your workplace to make a determination on the issue under s75 of the OHS Act.

If you have an elected HSR, then you should go to the HSR in the first instance. Check out this page on our website: Driving - maximum kms or hours? As well as information and advice on number of hours driving, fatigue, and more, there are links to useful information including how to choose an appropriate vehicle.

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

Reminder, this Thursday: 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 this coming Thursday, 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

Asbestos Awareness Week
This week is Asbestos Awareness Week: activities will be held across the country to raise awareness of asbestos safety. To find out more, visit the Asbestos Safety and Eradication Agency website or the various state and territory regulators websites. For example NSW has an item in its SafeWork Wrap newsletter - read it here.

India's Toxic Curse
A paper published by Indian medical practitioners has highlighted the ongoing epidemic of asbestos-related diseases in India and predicted that in decades to come – because of the current use of 350,000 tonnes of asbestos per year in India – there could be thousands of deaths per year from just one asbestos cancer – mesothelioma – with tens of thousands of additional fatalities from other asbestos-related illnesses. The authors state: “In the near future, there will be at least 12.5 million ARD [asbestos-related disease] patients and 1.25 million asbestos-related cancer patients worldwide, and half of these will be in India.”
Read more: Abhijeet Vasant Jadhav, Nilesh C Gawde. Current Asbestos Exposure and Future Need for Palliative Care in India. [Full article]. Indian Journal of Palliative Care.

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

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