Union News

Worker dies in fall

A 69-year-old painter has died in hospital after he fell through a carport roof at a Kilsyth home on Friday. He was taken to hospital in a critical condition where he died on Saturday. WorkSafe is investigating the incident.

The death of this worker man takes the number of fatalities this year to seven, or possibly eight (the Bruthen fatality two weeks ago may be a work fatality).

Reminder: VTHC Air Quality Standard

There has been quite a bit of interest in the VTHC's  Air quality standard, launched on January 30, 2020. It links workers' health and safety at work with the Environmental Protection Authority's air quality rating. It became necessary to develop the standard following a few days of extremely poor, even hazardous, air quality. 

The standard highlights what employers can do proactively to reduce the risk of workers being exposed workers to poor quality air, particularly at-risk workers and those working outdoors. Importantly, it aims to ensure that all non-critical outdoor work cease when the EPA Air Quality Index level is Very Poor or worse. Download the VTHCs Air Quality Standard. Use it to get ready for the next poor air quality day. Read more: Air Quality

Ask Renata

Hello Renata,

I work in supported housing. We have had two residents contract influenza A and following this a staff member contracted it as well. Is the staff member able to put a work cover claim in? Our manager approved payment of the doctor's accounts for staff who had symptoms, but then the staff who tested positive had to use their sick leave. Is this fair?

No this is neither fair nor correct. The condition was contracted in the course of the worker's employment - which I think the manager acknowledged in paying for the medical visit. Consequently, any time off needed as a result of the illness should be under workers' compensation, and not be covered by the worker’s personal sick leave. 

Further, the employer has a duty of care to identify hazards and risks and then implement controls to eliminate/minimise these. While it would not be possible to eliminate the risk, given your working environment, there would be a number of actions which the employer should be taking, for example:

  • ensuring there are adequate infection control procedures in place
  • where available, providing immunisation (eg 'flu shots') for all staff
  • ensuring all staff are properly trained
  • developing special procedures to follow when a resident develops an infectious condition
  • providing appropriate and adequate PPE
  • facilitating reporting symptoms and making claims

The staff member who contracted the flu needs to discuss this with her treating doctor, confirm that she contracted the flu through her work, and request a WorkCover certificate to cover his/her absence. He/she then needs to submit a WorkCover claim for the time off and the medical expenses, and submit that to the employer.  The other thing you should do is contact your union for advice. Read more: Influenza

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

2020 VTHC OHS Unit launch

The VTHC OHS Unit held its 2020 launch last week, with over 65 people attending a great evening in our newly restored Solidarity Hall. At the launch it was announced that the Unit Lead Organiser, Dr Paul Sutton, would be leaving at the end of last week to practise as an industrial lawyer with one of the large labour law firms. During his time as Lead Organiser, much was achieved:

  • the successful Industrial Manslaughter campaign which, with the efforts of workers, HSRs, unions and families who lost a loved one, culminated with the introduction of these laws in Victoria. 
  • the silica and manufactured stone campaign, which saw the introduction of a new exposure standard and new regulations in Victoria
  • the establishment of the Injured Workers' Support Network, 
  • and much more.

Everyone at the event wished him success in his new role. He will be missed - however, the new Lead Organiser, Dominic Melling, is already on board, and planning our activities for 2020.

Asbestos news

NSW: Asbestos hampers fire recovery

Although bulldozers and trucks are clearing debris in the aftermath of NSW's historic bushfires, the recovery effort is being hampered by the risk of asbestos contamination. According to an analysis by the NSW Rural Fire Service, assessments of damaged properties have found that approximately 40 per cent of the 2400 homes and buildings destroyed during the fires were riddled with asbestos.

These properties have been drenched with a PVC binder spray to fix the asbestos fibres in place, but the disposal of
the old corrugated sheets and boards poses an ongoing risk to communities during the clean-up. Deputy Premier John Barilaro, who is overseeing the recovery response, said “Contaminated properties will be prioritised. Hazardous materials will be transported away from communities by appropriately licensed contractors to appropriately licensed facilities.”

A similar problem has emerged during the clean up of properties damaged by the fires on Kangaroo Island where specialised contractors have commenced removing toxic waste, including asbestos copper chrome arsenate timber at no cost to property owners. 
Sources: The West Australian; The Islander

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

International union news

UK: Amazon made £10bn profit, its workers paid the price

Online retailer Amazon made a ‘mammoth’ profit of over £10 billion last year off the back of its workers’ health, safety, pay and working conditions, the UK union GMB has charged. Figures released by the company show that the firm, which runs a string of giant ‘fulfilment centres’ across Britain, made £10.7 billion (A$20.6 billion) in global profits over the whole of 2019, with final the quarter profits hitting £3.1bn (A$6bn). GMB national officer Mick Rix said: “Amazon’s profits come at a heavy cost. Conditions at the company’s warehouses are appalling. Workers are breaking bones, being knocked unconscious, being taken away in ambulances.” He added: “It’s time for Amazon to take its social responsibilities seriously, reinvest its profits in creating a safe environment, and listen to the independent voice of its workers who are crying out for change.” GMB has also accused the company of using tax loopholes to avoid paying an estimated £89 million in corporation tax. The company refuses to recognise trade unions, but GMB has recruited workers at the firm who have given graphic reports on shocking working conditions, low wages and job insecurity.
Read more: GMB news release. Amazon news release. BBC News Online. Source: Risks 933

Global: Unions insert labour rights in development bank deals

Trade union action has delivered binding labour safeguards in multilateral development bank projects, the global trade union confederation ITUC has said. Its new manual now shows how unions can use these safeguards to fight for labour rights, including stringent occupational health and safety stipulations.

The World Bank and regional multilateral development banks provide billions in loans every year to fund projects and private companies in developing countries. ITUC notes that thanks to years of dedicated trade union mobilisation, most loans from multilateral development banks now have safeguards requiring safe, decent working conditions and respect for International Labour Organisation’s (ILO) core labour standards.

“Attacks on human and trade union rights are mounting around the world, and workers face an uphill battle in organising for decent work. The labour safeguards of the multilateral development banks are leverage in these fights. Trade unions have demanded and won such protections. Now it is time to use the labour safeguards to build power and hold the development banks to account when workers’ rights are violated,” said Sharan Burrow, ITUC general secretary, and past ACTU President. The manual provides information on how the banks operate, the contents of the labour safeguards, tracking proposed and ongoing loan projects, engaging with the banks and how to raise complaints when workers’ rights are violated. A quick guide provides the essential information to take action, followed by thorough information on successful use of the safeguards.
Read more: ITUC news release and guide, Labour standards at the multilateral development banks [pdf]. Source: Risks 933

Pakistan: More deaths as mine safety crisis continues

There have been an increasing number of dangerous incidents and deaths in Pakistan’s coal mines, exposing the near non-existence of safety measures and continued negligence from the employers and the government, IndustriALL has warned. The global mining, manufacturing and chemicals unions’ federation was speaking out after a coal miner was killed as a trolley filled with coal hit him in the Duki area of the Baluchistan province on 27 January.

In the same area on 23 January, a worker was killed and five others were trapped in the mine after a landslide. On 3 January one miner died, and two were seriously injured at the Margat coalfield and on 12 January, two young miners were killed in separate mine collapses in Tirah and Darra Adamkhel. The IndustriALL dossier also records that on 15 January a coal miner was electrocuted at work and on 21 January two coal miners were killed as poisonous gas filled a mine following an explosion. And on 22 January, another coal miner lost his life due to electrocution.

Glen Mpufane, IndustriALL mining director, commented: “According to published media reports, more than 430 coal mine workers have been killed since 2010, and this may even be an underestimation. IndustriALL is urging the government of Pakistan to ratify and implement ILO convention 176 on safety and health in mines without delay. It is high time Pakistan’s government takes concrete measures to stop the continuing deaths of coal miners.”
Read more: IndustriALL news release. Source: Risks 933

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