Union News

VTHC OHS Unit news:

Webinar Tonight! Wednesday December 18

Tune in on our Facebook page at 7pm tonight for the final Webinar for the year. Sam, Luke and Renata will be available to go through some of the unanswered questions we've had this year, and those participating can also send in anything on their minds.

New HSR Video on our Facebook page

if you haven't yet done so, check out Safety Sam's video on our Facebook page: Ian Haysom - Disability support worker. Ian is a HSR and disability support worker in Melbourne's north. Ian's new employer wants to drastically reduce the number of HSRs. Here's why he knows that's a bad idea, and what he plans to do about it.

Ask Renata

In just the past week alone I've received THREE queries related to air-conditioning: two where the air conditioner has broken down and the employer has 'not got around to fixing it' and one where the employer is randomly switching it off (to save money perhaps?) even when the temperature is very high. What are the employer's duties in these circumstances, and what can workers do?

We all know that we're going to have a hot summer: It's very hot in Victoria today, we're expecting temperatures in the 40s this Friday, and temperatures have been soaring around the country.

Employers (and PCBUs if you're under the WHS Act) have a general duty of care to (so far as is reasonably practicable):

  1. provide and maintain a working environment that is safe and without risks to health
  2. provide and maintain plant or systems of work that are safe and without risks to health
  3. maintain each workplace under the employer's management and control in a condition that is safe and without risks to health
  4. monitor the health of employees
  5. monitor the conditions at the workplace

So.. this means ensuring that the air conditioning is properly serviced and maintained so that it's functioning properly, checking on the temperature and how workers are faring in the heat, providing plenty of cool water and adequate breaks. If, due to circumstances outside the employer's control (such as electricity black or brown outs) the system must be shut down, then the employer must consider the effect of workers, keep monitoring the conditions and take appropriate actions to ensure the health and safety of workers.

See these pages for more information:

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

Glyphosate - in the news here too now

Subscribers to SafetyNet will be aware of the legal cases in the USA being brought against Bayer over its product Roundup - the active component of which is glyphosate - and the battle in the EU to have it banned. Just last week we reported that the Austrian government is set to ban the the cancer-linked herbicide glyphosate from 1 January 2020. Some workers have been successful in getting large amounts of compensation paid, and now there are hundreds of cases in the US. This week The Age reported that a former Victorian farmer will lead a major class action against the German pharmaceutical giant over claims that long-term exposure to Roundup can cause non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

Nando Maisano, 77, also accuses Bayer, and the original manufacturer Monsanto, of repeatedly ignoring and concealing evidence of the carcinogenic impact of glyphosate in a Supreme Court of Victoria writ lodged on December 10.

Mr Maisano owned farms in Lower Crawford, Carngham and Clarkefield, where he used Roundup since 1976 to get rid of thistle on his properties, build fire-breaks and on weeds in his vegetable garden. He would sometimes wear gloves or a paper mask, but remembers being drenched in the herbicide that Monsanto used to say was "safer than table salt". He sold his Clarkefield farm when diagnosed with non-Hodgkin Lymphoma in 1997, but continued to use Roundup around his Melbourne home until 2018. Mr Maisano will be lead plaintiff in the class action, which already includes approximately 100 other litigants all diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

Despite growing evidence, the company maintains the safety of its products, said spokesman Lachlan Bird, and would vigorously defend the claim in court. "Bayer is a company devoted to life sciences. The health and well-being of our consumers and the environment are critically important to us," Mr Bird said.
Read more: Victorian farmer leads class action against Roundup manufacturer, The Age

Asbestos news

WA: Huge asbestos dump found in shallow water at Penguin Island

An asbestos dumping site thought to be about half the size of a football field has been found in shallow water just off popular WA tourist attraction Penguin Island. Chunks of waste asbestos were recently found by someone prospecting for coins. How much has been dumped in the knee-deep water is unknown, but it's just metres from the shore. Penguin Island gets thousands and thousands of tourists every year. Asbestos Diseases Society CE Melita Markey told The Western Australian that if any of the material were to be washed up on the beach it could quickly become hazardous in the 'corrosive environment'. If they break up and dry out they would release fibres which are extremely toxic when inhaled. She has called for the site to be cleaned up and made safe.
Source: The West Australian

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

International News

UK: "Landmark" win for prison officers

The UK prison officers’ union POA has secured a groundbreaking safety agreement with the Prison Service. The union says for the first time the ‘landmark’ deal commits prison managers to a legally binding procedure for addressing urgent health and safety concerns. It also ensures that the POA can advise its members of their health and safety rights without being accused of unlawfully inducing industrial action. “This is the result of a successful settlement of a claim arising out of health and safety concerns raised by POA members at HMP Lindholme in October 2018,” the union said.

After two prison officers were seriously assaulted, POA members concerned about working in an unsafe prison instigated “a controlled regime.” The POA branch committee tried to raise concerns with local prison management, but were instead accused by management of unlawfully inducing industrial action. The Prison Service brought a claim against the POA for an injunction and damages, with the union counterclaiming over unsafe conditions and inadequate staffing. The union said in instances where their members’ safety was in jeopardy “the POA must be entitled to advise members of their health and safety rights and to seek to represent their concerns to management in order to try to get them resolved.” POA said it “achieved its main objective in the litigation.” It added the Prison Service has agreed to a ‘protocol’ to be used when members have urgent health and safety concerns. “This ensures that, when members come to us with such concerns, POA representatives can advise members of their health and safety rights and duties and the Prison Service will not treat that as unlawfully inducing industrial action,” the union said. Describing the agreement as a ‘major victory” for the union, POA national chair Mark Fairhurst stated: “There is no doubt that our proactive approach defending our members’ safety with a reluctant employer is reaping benefits for POA members.” POA general secretary Steve Gillan added: “This protocol now gives clarity and I welcome it but more importantly it was our members’ actions at Lindholme that guaranteed this success in this landmark protocol. The Committee and branch members were paramount in this success for the whole POA”.
Read more:  POA news release. Source: Risks 927

Europe: Groups call for chemicals policy to be strengthened

The European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC), the European Consumers Organisation (BEUC) and the European Environmental Bureau (EEB) have together callws on the European Commission “to build a Europe that protects people and ecosystems against chemical pollution.” In a joint letter sent to Commission president Ursula von der Leyen, the three civil society organisations urge the EU to adopt a 2030 chemicals strategy “to set Europe on the road to a non-toxic economy and a healthy future.”

Per Hilmersson, ETUC deputy general secretary in charge of health and safety at work, said: “Chemicals can bring benefits to our society, but many also contribute to the rise in severe health problems including occupational cancers. To stop cancer at work the Carcinogens and Mutagens Directive must be revised further and include more binding occupational exposure limit values for carcinogens.”

EEB said leaks of the Commission ‘Green Deal’ plans suggest president von der Leyen may fail to follow through on her public commitment to a “zero pollution” goal. The Green Deal was expected to reiterate the commitment made by all three official EU institutions to a ‘Non-toxic Environment Strategy’, which EEB says is already overdue, but the leaked plans have placed this in doubt. EEB says instead “the leaked plans reflect stated chemical industry preferences.” ETUC, BEUC and EEB are the three largest civil society organisations representing the voice of workers, consumers and the environment at EU level. Read more: ETUC news release and joint letter. EEB news release.  Source: Risks 927

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