Union News

Another Victorian worker killed

On Friday March 20, a young worker was killed after being crushed by a silo on his family’s dairy farm at Mooroopna North. 

WorkSafe believes the 23-year-old man was working underneath the silo alone when it collapsed on top of him about 4pm. The regulator is investigating the incident.

The fatality brings the number of official workplace deaths this year to 14, which is eight more than at the same time last year. According to the VTHC, this is the 16th fatality so far this year. Tragically, it's the fourth death on a farm this year, which is only two fewer fatalities than the agriculture sector recorded for all of 2019.

WorkSafe Chief Executive Colin Radford said the shocking toll less than three months into the year was a reminder that every workplace needs to stay focused on safety despite their changing priorities.

"Each of these deaths is a tragedy for families, co-workers and communities who are having to deal with the loss of a loved one at an already difficult time," he said. Mr Radford said many Victorian workplaces will look very different as the community continues to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic, but that doesn’t mean safety should take a back seat. "While employers are spending a lot of time and energy on adapting to the crisis, they must continue to do everything they can to protect the health and wellbeing of their workers." Source: WorkSafe Media release 

Cyclist killed when hit by garbage truck

A cyclist was killed last Wednesday March 18 in a crash involving a garbage truck on Mt Alexander Rd in Travancore, sparking peak hour traffic delays. The crash closed Mt Alexander Rd in both directions at Mooltan St near CityLink, 4km north of Melbourne's CBD. Police believe the truck was driving city-bound on Mount Alexander Rd and turned left into Mooltan St, striking the cyclist at about 6am. The rider died at the scene.  It appears the rider was on his way to work. 

It is unclear whether this fatality would be included in the work-related fatality tally once WorkSafe begins to count road fatalities. 

Coronavirus (COVID-19) Update

The situation is changing daily. Australia's eighth death was confirmed on Tuesday March 24 - a female passenger in her 70s who had been on the Ruby Princess cruise ship.  According to NSW Health the woman, who was among the first group of people infected on the ship, died in hospital yesterday morning. There have been 133 diagnosed cases of COVID-19 aboard the Ruby Princess, which docked in Sydney last week

The restrictions on what is open and the activities people can do have been increasing almost daily. Currently, in Victoria:

  • Almost all venues where people gather to eat, exercise, be entertained or worship are now closed. This includes Crown Casino, fitness centres, libraries. Restaurants and cafes can remain open to provide take away meals/coffee
  • Parties are banned, even small family gatherings or dinners are discouraged
  • There is currently no change to:
    • supermarkets, shops and shopping centres (but food courts must close)
    • deliveries and mail service
    • medical centres
    • pharmacies
    • traders, plumbers, electricians
  • School holidays in Victoria were brought forward to begin on Tuesday March 25. Premier Daniel Andrews has said at the moment term two will begin on April 11, but a decision on whether to reopen schools after the term break would be determined following advice from the Chief Health Officer
  • There will be arrangements in place for essential service workers with children in primary or specialist schools  
  • Both private and public hospitals are enforcing stricter visitor protocols: patients will be able to have a maximum of two visitors per day for no more than two hours. Palliative patients and maternity wards are the exception
  • To slow infection rates down everyone must exercise 'social distancing' - that is, stay at least 1.5 metres away from the next person. 
  • Many thousands of workers are now working from home. 

Health and Safety Reps and workers: check out the Coronavirus (COVID-19) hazard information page on our website, we will try to keep it up to date. Other sources of information are:

  • Victoria's Department of Health and Human Services Information page on Coronavirus. This is updated regularly and is the source for accurate information. Other useful DHHS resources are: a ‘self-assessment tool' [pdf] for risk of coronavirus’ to be used as needed.
  • From the ACTU Centre for Health and Safety a COVID-19 resource page. This page will be regularly updated to provide unions, HSRs and workers information on how they can protect their workplaces from COVID-19. Anyone can also sign up to receive email updates. 
  • New or updated guidance on working from home:

Ask Renata 

Hello,

With everything that's going on I am feeling extremely stressed. I work in the community health sector and although my employer has put measures in place to try to minimise contact with our clients, it's impossible not to come into contact with them! It's part of the job. What can be done?

During times such as these there are going to be workers who are employed in what are deemed to be 'essential services' - these include workers in the health and community sector.  If you are in one of these industries, then it is crucial to work with your employer to make sure that there are appropriate measures in place which will decrease the number of infections and potentially save lives. The employer has a duty to consult with HSRs and workers when developing and implementing these measures. What measures are taken will depend a great deal on the type of work that needs to be done.

However there are a number of measures that can be taken to manage the risk:

Management and plans to control risks and support the workplace

  • Is there a plan in place in the event that the workplace or an individual worker has been exposed to COVID-19? 
  • Is there an adequate procedure in place for workers to report if they’re feeling unwell, have been potentially exposed to COVID-19 or to update their employer on their condition if they are unwell? 
  • Have procedures been amended to, where possible, limit unnecessary contact and support social distancing both in the workplace and outside it?
  • Are there arrangements for free Influenza vaccines?

Cleanliness and hygiene

  • Are safe hygiene practices in place in the workplace? Has the employer provided adequate information and training on these to workers? 
  • Do workers have access to hand washing facilities and other products which support good hygiene, such as hand sanitizer? 
  • Is the workplace being cleaned regularly and sanitized to an appropriate standard?
  • What measures are in place to maximise hygiene if work is being done outside the workplace - for example in clients' homes?

Personal protective equipment (PPE) 

  • If required, have workers been provided with their own, individual personal protective equipment (PPE)? For example, disposable face masks, disposable gloves? This is particularly important for those working in the community and health care sector and/or visiting clients in their homes.
  • If PPE or tools needs to be shared, are they regularly cleaned and disinfected to an appropriate standard?

As noted above, go to the Coronavirus (COVID-19) hazard information page on our website as well as the ACTU's COVID-19 resource page.

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

Useful information and advice 

  1. Many of us may be feeling generally anxious, which this is natural, given that we are being bombarded with news and information about the COVID-19 pandemic. The international organisation Médecins Sans Frontieres has provided some simple tips for coping with stress during the pandemic: Taking care of your mental health during COVID-19 - check it out. It will make you feel better.  
  2. Normal life has been disrupted - Managing the disruption caused by COVID-19 [pdf]  This is an Occupational Therapy Guide providing general advice for those spending much more time at home, either due to work or just generally. It has some useful advice.

All workers losing their jobs need help!

Million of Australians face losing their jobs. We need the government to act urgently and decisively to help keep us in work. It doesn't matter whether someone is a casual, someone on a work visa or someone who is a sole trader - they all have bills and need to eat and so must be assisted. Other governments are doing it. The UK government is guaranteeing up to 80 per cent of people's wages - demand the same here.

Please sign our petition and retweet #auspol #COVID19Aus 

Big win for workers - Wage theft legislation introduced

In some good news, the wage theft legislation went through the lower house of the Victorian parliament last week.  Employers who deliberately underpay or don’t pay their workers will face up to 10 years jail under new laws introduced into parliament on March 18 by the Andrews Labor Government.

The Wage Theft Bill 2020 will establish new criminal offences targeting employers who deliberately withhold wages and other employee entitlements. Employers who dishonestly withhold wages, superannuation or other employee entitlements, will face fines of up to $198,264 for individuals, $991,320 for companies and up to 10 years jail.

Offences will also capture employers who dishonestly falsify or fail to keep employee entitlement records, such as payroll records. These are aimed at employers who try to conceal wage theft by falsifying or failing to keep records.

The legislation will establish the Wage Inspectorate of Victoria as a statutory authority with powers to investigate and prosecute wage theft offences.

Attorney-General Jill Hennessey said, “This problem is systematic – that’s why our laws will apply beyond wages and include allowances, gratuities, superannuation and other accruals such as leave, as well as ensuring directors and officers are held to account.” Read more: New laws to crack down on wage theft. Victorian Government media release

Asbestos news

NSW: new safety campaign warns builders to beware of lurking asbestos
A new safety campaign is warning New South Wales builders to beware asbestos lurking in more places than expected. The campaign, launched by the NSW Environment Protection Authority (EPA), warns that more than 3000 products containing asbestos were used in Australian homes and workplaces before it was banned in 2003.

These include roofs, eaves, downpipes and insulation, interior walls, kitchen splashbacks, under lino, some carpets and tiles (and the cement compounds used to fix tiles), lagging around pipes, inside fuse boxes or as part of ventilation shafts, fences, garden sheds and small outdoor constructions like chicken coops, and as part of bonded cement compounds that make up walls, which can be disturbed when sanded in preparation for painting. Read more: BCM for Tradies

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

International News

UK: TUC guide for for unions on COVID-19

The UK's peak union council, the TUC has produced a new guide on coronavirus for union reps. It says: “Safety representatives are urged to ensure that their employer notifies all their staff of what arrangements they have made to prepare for an outbreak of pandemic Covid-19, including what role they expect individual staff to take.”  The guide includes information on workplace hygiene, personal protective equipment and on transmission of the coronavirus. 
Read more: COVID-19 Coronavirus - Guidance for Unions.

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