Union News

Update on fatality figures

The VTHC has confirmed with WorkSafe Victoria that the fatality in Bruthen (reported in SafetyNet 518) was not work-related. Although the incident involved a tractor, the property was not a working farm, but private property, and the deceased had borrowed the tractor from a neighbour. This means the current number of work-related fatalities to seven (VTHC count).

Ask Renata

Hello Renata,

Are there any recommendations that we can check for reference for when a worker should wear high visibility clothing? We have a 24hr workplace with truck movement and forklifts in operation around the clock and as of yet hi vis clothing in not mandatory.

Under section 21 of the OHS Act, the employer has a general duty of care to provide and maintain for employees a working environment that is, so far as is reasonably practicable, safe and without risks to health. This includes the workplace and the systems of work.

So while neither the Act nor the Regulations specifically mandate high vis clothing (PPE), the wearing of this would normally form part of a range of controls that the employer needs to implement to eliminate/minimise the risks in such a hazardous work environment.  Note - 'a range of controls' - the provision of PPE needs to form part of a broader traffic management plan the employer should be developing. WorkSafe advises that employer need to: 

  1. Identify all hazards associated with using a forklift at the workplace.
  2. Assess the risks to people's health and safety and make sure the traffic management plan includes ways to control those risks that will ensure people's safety.

Note that this advice is in relation to fork lift safety,  but the presence of trucks and other vehicles increases the risks. A thorough traffic management plan or system needs to be much broader than having workers wear high vis gear (though it’s generally accepted and common practice that this be one of the controls). The aim is to control the hazards at source as much as possible, rather than relying on high vis clothing, which is essentially PPE, and a ‘lower order’ control.

Take a look at this traffic management self assessment tool from the Queensland regulator - PPE is listed at point 15 as an Administrative control, and the PCBU (term for employer in that state) must implement take higher level controls which look to prevention of possible incidents, separation of pedestrians, and so on first. Check this page on Fork lift safety and links to WorkSafe publications.

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

Do you have a good story on preventing manual handling injuries?

HSRs will be aware that musculoskeletal injuries due to hazardous manual handling are still the most commonly compensated workplace injuries in Victoria. WorkSafe has asked its stakeholders to help it identify some 'good news' stories which illustrate positive work being done in workplaces to identify and then control (hopefully eliminating the risk) hazardous manual handling.

If you've had success in your workplace, have been able to work collaboratively with your employer to reduce the risks of hazardous manual handling by following the hierarchy of control, we'd love to hear from you. Contact the OHS Unit at the VTHC by sending an email to [email protected].

Asbestos news

Put children on the asbestos register: ASEA head

The head of the federal government's asbestos eradication agency, ASEA, has advised parents of Newcastle East Public School students to list their children on the government's asbestos exposure register as a precaution. Peter Tighe said while it may seem like an extreme step, it would give students greater security if they developed symptoms related to asbestos exposure later in life. Parents were advised on the first day of school this year that friable loose-fill asbestos had been found on rafters inside the school's heritage building as part of works to replace the building's 1970s-era faux slate roof during the school holidays. It is not known how long material had been exposed to the environment for. (read more: The Newcastle Herald)

The register was created seven years ago to record the details of people who believe they have been exposed to asbestos either in the workplace or the community. "It [the register] is not for public access," Mr Tighe, who has been chief executive of the Asbestos Safety and Eradication Agency since 2013, said. "If parents are worried I think it would be wise to put their children on the register because it would provide a formal record of potential exposure."

In a document prepared in response to parents' questions last week, the Department of Education advised concerned parents to initially consult a GP but noted that registering children on the national register was also an option. The department also said it had appropriate insurance in place for current and former staff and students. Mr Tighe said the undetected presence of Super 6 sheeting was worrying. "What was the quality of the school's asbestos register? The register is supposed to be reviewed by a certified person every five years," Mr Tighe said.
Source: The Newcastle Herald

NSW: Asbestos removal at prestigious school goes very wrong

Dodgy asbestos removal work at St Catherine’s School Sydney in Waverley may have exposed workers and the neighbouring community to the deadly material, warns the NSW CFMEU.

“Asbestos removal conducted at the site over the weekend appears to have been done with scant regard for the usual control measures that are essential to its safe handling and disposal,” said Darren Greenfield, NSW CFMEU Secretary. “The work site is now littered with asbestos dust and fragments and there is material on the footpath and street close to the school. It is shocking to see such blatant disregard for the safety of the community.”

He said, "The union has called for a hygienist to assess the site, but it is clear from even the cursory examination that something has gone very wrong here. We have grave fears for how the work has been done and have serious questions about who has done the work. Professional and licenced asbestos removalists do not usually botch a job as badly as this.” Read more: CFMEU media release

More information on Asbestos: In the workplace and In the Home. And check out the Victorian government's Asbestos site: asbestos.vic.gov.au

International union news

UK: Time to change law on sexual harassment

Almost 7 in 10 (68 per cent) people think the #MeToo movement has allowed people to be more open about sexual harassment, according to a new Trade Union Congress (TUC) poll. This number is highest amongst women (72 per cent) and young people (78 per cent). But UK's peak body says that despite higher levels of awareness, cases of sexual harassment remain alarmingly high.

It is calling on the government to introduce a legal duty on employers to actively prevent sexual harassment at work. TUC research found that more than half (52 per cent) of women – and nearly two-thirds (63 per cent) of young women aged 18-24 years old – have experienced sexual harassment at work.  There is no legal requirement for employers to prevent sexual harassment happening in their workplaces. Instead, it is up to the victim to report it after it has happened.

The TUC wants the law changed so employers have a legal duty to make sure that their workplaces are harassment-free – by taking simple preventive steps like carrying out mandatory training for all staff and managers and having clear policies. It says this would shift the burden of dealing with sexual harassment from individuals to employers. This would change workplace cultures and stop the problem once and for all, says the TUC. TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “The #MeToo movement has helped people speak more openly about sexual harassment. That’s a good a thing. But talking about the problem isn’t going to fix it. The government must stop dragging its feet and change the law.” She said ministers should take immediate action, adding: “Employers, not victims, should be responsible for tackling harassment at work.” New guidance from the arbitration service Acas says non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) should not be used to prevent someone from reporting sexual harassment in the workplace.
Read more: TUC news release. Acas news release. Source: Risks 934


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