Union News

Two more workers killed in Victoria

Tragically two young workers were killed in the state last week.

The first fatality was a 26 year-old man, who died in hospital last Wednesday night from serious head injuries after a fall at a Templestowe residential construction site on Monday. The second death was that of a 34-year-old woman who was crushed by marble slabs inside a shipping container at Dingley Village on Thursday morning. This is the third shipping container death so far this year, at least two of those involved unloading stone.

WorkSafe is investigating both incidents. 

These last fatalities bring the number of Victorians killed at work this year to 23. The VTHC OHS Unit sends the families, friends and colleagues of these workers our sincerest condolences. No one should die at work: all workplace deaths are preventable.

Further news on police fatalities

Today's media has reported that the trucking company involved in the Eastern Freeway crash in which four police officers were killed has been raided by Victorian police. Officers went to the head office of Connect Logistics in Riverstone, about 50 kilometres from Sydney, earlier this week. As well as the Connect Logistics head office, two residential properties in Kenthurst, 20 minutes drive from Riverstone, were searched. 

A total of four search warrants were carried out. It is understood police seized a number of documents in the raids, including logbooks. NSW Police confirmed that it was helping officers from Victoria Police's heavy vehicle unit with the execution of a search warrant in western Sydney. Source: The Age

Coronavirus (COVID-19) Update

Latest figures

As of this morning, there had been 6875 cases of coronavirus disease diagnosed in Australia. 97 people have died - 13 more than last week. These figures highlight the success of measures taken - but it is not time to become complacent, with an outbreak in a Melbourne meatworks this week (see below). New cases and deaths worldwide are still on the increase, with some countries not yet reaching the 'peak'. In the United States for example, where there are a total of 1,237,633 cases and 72,271 deaths, many states are looking at severely winding back restrictions - surely too soon.  For more information on Coronavirus and COVID-19, go to this page on our site.

Outbreak at Melbourne meatworks

The number of COVID-19 infections in Victoria suddenly increased this week with a cluster of 45 (CHECK NUMBERS) workers at Cedar Meats in Brooklyn testing positive. Eleven of the 17 new cases diagnosed in Victoria on Monday are connected to Cedar Meats. A total of 45 people have contracted coronavirus at the facility. Both the company and the state's chief health officer have assured the public meat from the factory is safe to eat. All 350 staff were tested for COVID-19 by May 1 and the site has been shut down. Sources: ABC news online; SBS online

School closes after teacher tests positive

Also this week, a school in Melbourne's north, Meadow Glen primary school in Epping, was closed after a music teacher tested positive for COVID-19. He believes he contracted the infection when he played at a live gig in March. Despite the increase in testing in the state, he said he had been rejected for testing three times.  The principal of the school said that despite the teacher not having been in contact with any students this year, the school would be closed for three days to allow for deep cleaning and any necessary contact tracing. 

Victorian Health Minister Jenny Mikakos said, "This staff member has been on site recently ... this is why it is necessary for the school needs to be cleaned."  The Department of Health and Human Services confirmed the case on Saturday and was working to support the school, she said. Parents, carers and staff were contacted by the school to let them know a staff member had tested positive. It was organised for students who had been attending the school in person to go to a neighbouring school until the school reopens tomorrow (Thursday).

AEU Victorian Branch President Meredith Peace said, "The fact that a teacher has tested positive for COVID-19 shows that Victoria's cautious approach to schools is smart and necessary.

"Our main concern is keeping Victoria's students and education staff safe and healthy and we hope the teacher in question makes a quick and full recovery and the school is provided with appropriate support."
Sources: SBS news, ABC news online, AEU 

ACTU: Pandemic leave and WHS reforms needed before workers return to work

This week the ACTU, Australia's peak union council, has issued a statement saying that as isolation measures are going to be relaxed, there are a number of essential reforms which must be made to ensure people are kept safe as they return to work. There are three things the ACTU is seeking: 

  1. Paid pandemic leave for all workers who believe they might have contracted COVID-19, allowing all workers to get tested and if necessary, take additional time to recover. This can be provided for 90 per cent of workers by the Morrison Government, but states and territories will be essential to ensuring universal coverage.
  2. A legal obligation on employers to protect their workers and their customers by implementing the highest practical standards and controls for their work to prevent infections and stop the virus from spreading. This will require new regulation from state, territory and federal governments.
  3. Compulsory notification to local health authorities and work health and safety regulators in all states and territories of any cases of COVID-19 infection that may have been the result of work.

The ACTU has said that these reforms must be legislated before any relaxation of isolation orders in order to keep working people and the community at large safe from a second peak. ACTU Secretary Sally McManus said, “This is essential to protect workers’ health and to avoid a second wave of infections. 1 in 3 workers have no access to paid sick leave. Health authorities, including the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee (AHPPC) have regularly cited the lack of paid sick leave as an unacceptable risk that will see more people infected with COVID-19."

This campaign is not limited to Australia: Unions around the world are calling for the disease to be declared as an occupational disease.  Read more:   ACTU media releaseITUC news release and Council of Global Unions Statement on Recognition of COVID-19 as an Occupational Disease [pdf]. Read more: Risks 945.

Will hot-desking be a thing of the past? 

Over the past couple of years, some employers have sought to save on office accommodation costs by introducing the practice of 'hot-desking'. This practice has not been welcomed by workers and unions as it has caused a number of problems (see: The hidden hell of hot desking is much worse than you think. The Australian Financial Review). But as a result of the current COVID-19 pandemic, it looks like in the UK at least, hot desking and 'shared pens' will be banned as workers return to their offices.  A similar message has come from Australia's chief medical officer, Professor Brendan Murphy, who said in a press conference yesterday in response to a question about hot desking: "Well, I think hot desking would have to be done in a different way. .. If you are doing hot desks or sharing common spaces, frequent cleaning. We want cleaning products everywhere."  Read more: Chief Medical Officer's press conference May 5Hot desking could be banned and no shared pens in plan to re-open offices. Metro News

Ask Renata  

Hi Renata   
While I am not a designated cleaner, my duties also include daily cleaning of toilets (staff and public). Should my employer be paying for Hepatitis immunisation? They do provide PPE (gloves and safety glasses). 
.
In my view, it would be a good idea if the employer provides/organises and pays for Hepatitis B vaccines for workers who clean toilets. Also to consider are Hepatitis A vaccine and tetanus.   
Below is advice from the federal Health Department recommends. 
.
The following people are recommended to receive hepatitis B vaccine:
  • embalmers
  • workers who perform skin penetration procedures (such as tattooists and body-piercers)
  • funeral workers
  • other workers who have regular contact with human tissue, blood or body fluids
  • other workers who have regular contact with used needles or syringes
Plumbers and other workers in regular contact with untreated sewage are recommended to receive vaccines against:
  • hepatitis A
  • tetanus (dT or dTpa)
As cleaners (or cleaning tasks) are not specifically listed, the issue is one of how great the exposure is to either bodily fluids, etc, used needles/syringes and sewerage. So there would need to be a hazard id and risk assessment - but if there is a risk, then the vaccines need to be provided, as well as, of course, the appropriate PPE.
For more information, see these pages on the site: Hepatitis A and Hepatitis B. Also, check out this page on Health Department website, which sets out recommendations in the Immunisation handbook. 
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Please remember: if you have any OHS related queries, then send them in via our Ask Renata facility on the website. 
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Wednesday April 13: Webinar on Occupational Disease
Next Wednesday April 13, the Safety Boyz will, with another very special guest, be looking Occupational Disease. Their guest is occupational diseases expert Professor Tim Driscoll, from the School of Public Health at Sydney University. They will be discussing how the law covers occupational diseases, who is most at risk and what we (and HSRs) can do about it. 
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Asbestos news
QLD: Dying 27 year old sues governmentInternational union news A terminally-ill 27 year old mother and nurse who is believed to have contracted an asbestos-related cancer in primary school, is suing the state for $3.8 million. The Mackay mother was a pupil at Dundula State School, near Mackay, in 1998 and 2002, when there was work on buildings containing asbestos. Her Supreme Court claim alleges that exposure to asbestos at the school caused her to develop peritoneal mesothelioma.

Her lawyer Jonathan Walsh, of Maurice Blackburn, said she had potentially had only days or weeks to live. He said the cancer was very aggressive and progressing and doctors said her life expectancy was incredibly unpredictable. “Here is a young woman, really just at the beginning of her adult life, committed to raising her young child and helping others in her role as a nurse, now having to face this cruel disease,’’ said Mr Walsh, a specialist dust diseases lawyer.
Source: The HeraldSun

More information on Asbestos: In the workplace and In the Home.
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International Union news
UK: TUC seeks tough measures before return to work
The TUC is calling on the UK government to introduce tough new measures to ensure that before lockdown restrictions are eased, all employers assess the risks to staff returning to their workplace. In a new report, the TUC outlines what government and employers need to do to keep workers safe at work after lockdown is eased, and to give staff the confidence they need. The union body is demanding that every employer in the UK be required to carry out a specific Covid-19 risk assessment, developed in consultation with unions and workers. 
New TUC polling shows that 2 in 5 (40 per cent) of workers surveyed, along with those who have recently become unemployed, are worried about returning to the normal place of work, including half (49 per cent) of women. A similar proportion (39 per cent) said they are concerned about not being able to socially distance from colleagues when back at work, and over a quarter (28 per cent) are concerned about not being able to socially distance from customers or clients.  
Read more: Risks 945
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