Union News

Four Victorian workers killed

It is with great sadness that we report that since the last edition of the journal, four Victorian workers have been killed. The VTHC sends its condolences for the family, friends and work colleagues of these workers. Two of these were related to Victoria's bushfires:

  1. December 21: A farmer was killed after he was thrown from a tractor on a farm at Hill End in West Gippsland. It is believed the 44-year-old was moving hay bales when the tractor struck a hole and rolled down a steep hill.
  2. January 8: Another farmer was killed while working on an empty semi-trailer on a property at Baringhup in central Victoria. It appears the 51-year-old was working with the trailer's rear gate when it collapsed on top of him.
  3. January 3: a 43-year old Forest Fire Management Victoria worker and his colleague were involved in a two-vehicle crash on the Goulburn Valley Highway.  The worker died at the scene.
  4. January 11: A Forest Fire Management Victoria firefighter from Parks Victoria was killed while battling bushfires in Victoria’s alpine region, in the Omeo area.

WorkSafe is investigating at least three of these fatalities. The latest fatalities bring the number of Victorian workers killed in 2019 to 33.
Note that the official number according to WorkSafe was 25.

Bushfire smoke: advice for HSRs and workers

Bushfire smoke contains a mixture of gasses and very fine particles that, if inhaled, are hazardous to health. Those most at risk are firefighters, other emergency service workers and those working outdoors. There is currently no evidence of a threshold below which exposure to particulate matter does not cause any health effects, Health effects can occur after both short and long-term exposure to particulate matter, therefore outdoor work must, where possible, cease when the EPA Air Quality Index is 'hazardous'.

Certain people are considered to be 'at risk' and more susceptible to particulate matter-related health effects:

  • Those with heart or lung diseases, including asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease - COPD,
  • pregnant women,
  • those with certain health conditions such as obesity or diabetes) 

Advice to HSRs and workers:

Go to the EPA AirWatch website and check the current Air Quality Index. HSRs should negotiate with their employers to reschedule any outdoor work if the air quality is moderate or worse, particularly for 'at risk' workers. If at all possible, all strenuous outdoor should be rescheduled if the air quality is poor - hazardous.

Heath hazards of bushfire smoke: The short-term effects include: worsening of lung and heart conditions. Asthmatics may need to use their medications more often, irritation of eyes, throat and nose. People have also reported headaches and dizziness.

The long-term effects are unknown, but depend on extent and duration. During the 2006-07 season, smoke from bushfires affected Melbourne residents, and the number of cardiac arrests increased.

On Tuesday last week, when Melbourne had the worst air quality than any other city in the world, the CFMEU closed its construction sites to protect the health of their members. Other unions, such as the MUA, have also issued advice to their members. Check with your union for advice.

On Wednesday last week, WorkSafe Victoria also issued advice: Health risks of outdoor work in areas impacted by bushfire smoke - The regulator re-iterates: "Employers have a duty to provide and maintain, so far as is reasonably practicable, a workplace that is safe and without risks to health. The most effective way to control the risk of exposure to smoke is to avoid outdoor work on days where the air quality rating is poor, very poor or hazardous." It also advises that "Respiratory protective equipment is the lowest level of risk control".  SafeWork Australia has also published guidance: Bushfires and air pollution

February 5: You're invited to the 2020 VTHC OHS Unit launch

With the start of a new year and a new decade we want to take some time to look back on past achievements, and look ahead to the future. 2019 was the year we won the fight for Industrial Manslaughter legislation, and in 2020 we're keeping up the momentum for safer workplaces.

Join us in Trades Hall's historic Solidarity Hall for an evening of OHS, community, friends and refreshments.

WHEN: February 5, 2020 at 6pm - 9pm
WHERE: Solidarity Hall, Victorian Trades Hall
CONTACT: Luke Bowman · [email protected] or RSVP here.

Asbestos News

Bushfires and asbestos
When the huge clean-up after the fires begins, one of the hazards will be asbestos. The Victorian government had to implement an extraordinary program after the Black Saturday fires to minimise the risks of asbestos, which was extensively used in buildings up to the 1980's. At this stage there has not yet been any indication of whether special conditions will apply - however WorkSafe Victoria has issued an alert on the 'hidden hazards' in the clean up. The regulator advises that anyone unsure whether a fire-damaged building contains asbestos should engage an occupational hygienist to inspect the site. If asbestos is found to be present, it needs to be removed by a licensed removalist. (see below).

The Victorian government has announced that those who have had their homes, shops and sheds destroyed in this season’s bushfires can have their properties cleaned up at no cost, so communities can start rebuilding as soon as possible. Minister for Natural Disaster and Emergency Management David Littleproud and Minister for Police and Emergency Services Lisa Neville announced today the fast, fully-funded and far-reaching 2020 Clean-up Program. The Victoria and Commonwealth Governments will jointly provide up to $75 million for the program to demolish, remove and safely dispose of all buildings destroyed or damaged beyond repair.

In NSW, the state government made a similar announcement: it will be co-ordinating the clean-up, which will include "containment and removal of asbestos-contaminated bushfire impacted materials. The release states: "Clean-up arrangements coordinated by the NSW Government will include:

  • the appointment of contractors in the south and the north to clean-up bushfire impacted properties
  • costs for the clean-up will be covered by the NSW Government in partnership with the Australian Government."

It has also been announced that homes in East Gippsland destroyed by bushfires will be cleaned up under a state and federal program that prioritises local contractors.

Silica: industry wants to self-regulate

Caesarstone Australia Pty Ltd, Smartstone Australia Pty Ltd and WK Marble & Granite Pty Ltd, the major companies supplying engineered stone, have made an application to the ACCC to form an industry body that wants to self-regulate the engineered stone industry. Exposure to dust from engineered stone causes deadly lung diseases like silicosis.

Such a body would allow them to set their own industry practices and erode the legislative framework that we fought hard for to combat the rise of deadly lung diseases. Workers are dying of silicosis in record numbers, and this body seeks only limit its liability for those deaths.

Do you think they've got workers' interests at heart? Or do you think they just want to look out for themselves? Sign our petition now to let the ACCC know that the application should be rejected! The petition will be delivered to the ACCC in a submission to oppose the approval of the application. Use the contact form on the page to send an e-mail directly to the decision maker, letting them know what you think. (You can use our pre-written message or write something yourself if you prefer.)

Queensland: silicosis diagnoses double

The media has been reporting that the rate of silicosis being detected in Queensland stonemasons has nearly doubled in the past year. While it is feared that thousands of stonemasons around Australia may have contracted the disease, a cluster was discovered in Queensland in 2018 which triggered a state-wide audit. At this stage 186 stonemasons, or nearly 20 per cent of the industry,  have been diagnosed. The majority of those diagnosed are between 22 and 45 years of age.

As a result of this emerging crisis, the federal government last year established a 'dust diseases taskforce' - the final report is expected to be provided to the Health minister by December this year. Meanwhile, the Queensland government is about to begin another round of audits to ensure that businesses are complying with the new code of practice which was introduced to make the work safer. Source: The Mercury

International Union news

International: Making women visible in health and safety

Greater efforts are needed to make sure occupational risks to women are taken into proper account, the global food and farming union federation IUF has said. It says while trade unions help make workplaces safer and healthier for all workers, women and men, “women's occupational health and safety (OHS) is neglected, putting workers at risk of injury and ill-health.”

Launching its new guide, IUF notes: “Many women trade union members have raised concerns that health and safety issues particularly affecting women at work (such as gender-related violence, pregnancy, menstruation and menopause) are not being adequately addressed.”  The global union says its new resource “on integrating gender into workplace health and safety” includes a brief outline of the problem, specific concerns raised by IUF affiliates, and proposals for action. It incorporates a briefing on do-it-yourself research, including body and hazard mapping, and a checklist of issues which can help trade union members fully integrate gender into occupational health and safety. According to IUF, “a gendered approach” to occupational health and safety “emphasises that it is the employers' responsibility to make the workplace safe for every worker and exposes the dangers of behaviour-based safety, which makes the individual worker responsible for workplace safety.” The guide is available in English, French and Spanish editions.
Read more: IUF news release and full guide, Making women visible in occupational health and safety, January 2020. Source: Risks 930

Cambodia: Concern as building collapse kills 36 workers

The collapse of a seven-storey building in the small coastal town of Kep in Southern Cambodia on 3 January has killed 36 workers, authorities have confirmed. The incident came just over six months after the collapse of a building in the Cambodian town of Sihanoukville that killed 28 people. “We want to express our sincere condolences to the families of those who perished in this tragic accident which can have been avoidable had institutional safety measures been put in place,” said Ambet Yuson, general secretary of the global construction union federation BWI. “We strongly call on the government of Cambodia to work closely with the Building and Wood Workers’ Trade Union Federation of Cambodia (BWTUC) to hold those responsible accountable and to increase and strengthen safety and health inspections to prevent further accidents across the country.”

Organisers from the BWTUC immediately undertook a mission to the town, denouncing lax enforcement of building standards and the scant regard shown for workers’ lives on this construction site and many others. “This horrific accident underscores the need for stronger building standards and better law enforcement. The building’s owners had only received approval to build five floors, however seven were under construction. These flagrant violations are part of a pattern of violation that is killing workers every year in Cambodia,” said BWTUC vice-president Chhlonh Sou. BWTUC called on the government to ensure access for the 23 surviving victims to the National Social Security Fund and to take serious action against both the construction company and the building’s owner. In addition, the union requested the government undertake inspections of all construction projects across the country. Read more: BWI news release. Jakarta Post.  Source: Risks 930



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