Union News

Webinar on Occupational Disease available to check out

The unit's Wednesday May 13 webinar on Occupational Disease is available to check out on our Facebook page. Sam and Luke were be joined by special guest, Professor Tim Driscoll, from the School of Public Health at Sydney University. They had a very interesting discussion on how the law covers occupational diseases, who is most at risk and what we (and HSRs) can do about it.  Check it out on the We Are Union HSRs Facebook page.  

Boy killed in all terrain vehicle crash

In a tragic incident, a 10 year-old boy was killed this weekend after crashing a 'side by side' all terrain vehicle on a private property off Cressy-Shelford Road at Shelford, near Geelong. While this boy's death will not be classified as a workplace fatality, it shows that vehicles such as 'side by sides' and quad bikes are not toys, but extremely dangerous equipment. 

Coronavirus (COVID-19) Update  

Latest figures  
As of this morning, there had been 7068 cases of coronavirus disease diagnosed in Australia. 100 people have died - an increase of three since the last week. While it looks like the measures the government introduced have been effective, it appears that there will continue to be concerns of 'clusters'. For example, in addition to the recent outbreak at Brooklyn meatworks Cedar Meats (which accounted for 99 cases), there has also been an outbreak related to a number of McDonald's outlets. (see below). Although the outbreak at Cedar Meats is being investigated by WorkSafe, work has now recommenced there. 

The pandemic is far from reaching its peak around the world however. Italy and other European countries have begun to relax restrictions - with the number of deaths in Italy decreasing (but they still had 99 in one day earlier this week).  Countries such as Brazil, however, are still to reach peak numbers. For more information on Coronavirus and COVID-19, go to this page on our site. 

COVID-19 outbreak at McDonalds 
Up to a thousand, of McDonald's workers have been stood down on unpaid pandemic leave for 14 days after a cluster was first identified at the Fawkner store in Melbourne's north, and then a delivery driver testing positive. This led to 12 McDonalds outlets closing their doors. There have been a total of 12 cases of the infection: 10 at Fawkner, one at Craigieburn and the driver. 

The workers have been told to self-isolate.  Those who are part-time (permanent) may have access to some sick leave, but most are casuals and many of them will not qualify for JobKeeper (if they have not been employed there long enough). There is no doubt that these workers came into contact with the virus because they were working at those outlets. They have been told that even after the 14 days they will not be able to return unless they test negative. The plight of the workers who have been stood down highlights the need for paid pandemic leave, as called for by the ACTU last week. The ACTU's demand is:

"Paid pandemic leave for all workers who have reason to believe that they might have contracted COVID-19. This would allow all workers who believe they may have the illness to get tested and if necessary, take additional time to recover. This entitlement can be provided for 90 per cent of workers by the Morrison Government, but states and territories will be essential to ensuring universal coverage." Read more: ACTU media release; The Guardian.

Ask Renata  

Hi Renata   

My employer has started to make noises about us gradually returning to work. What are some of the issues we need to be aware of?

I will deal with this question over a couple of separate journals, as there are many issues... 

Firstly, it’s crucial you have one or more health and safety representatives (HSRs) as it’s becoming increasingly clear that there are going to be a range of issues which need to be considered and dealt with before workers can safely return to work. Under the obligations of the OHS Act, the employer has a legal duty to consult with any HSRs when identifying and assessing hazards and risks, and when implementing controls to eliminate (or minimise) these hazards and risks. If there are no elected HSRs, then the employer must consult with affected workers – but this is difficult to do effectively, and is often just not done at all. The duty to consult, which is in s35 of the Act, also requires the employer to consult when proposing changes to (almost) anything, like the workplace, the systems of work, the plant and so on.

This is super important – how things will need to be done, what the workplace might look like, and more will need to change. Specifically, this might mean changes to or consideration of:

  • The physical layout of the workplace – to ensure physical distancing
  • The hours of work
  • How and how often the workplace needs to be cleaned
  • Evacuation procedures
  • How many visitors/clients can enter the workplace
  • Interaction between staff and visitors/clients
  • Leave policies
  • and more…

These issues will affect the level of risk to workers of contracting COVID-19. 

There will be other issues, depending on the workplace and the type of work. For example: workers in the transport sector – potential overcrowding in buses, trams, trains and platforms; or construction workers – there have already been employer complaints about the difficulties of maintaining physical distancing. For these reasons it is crucial that workers, through their HSRs have a say. It is unacceptable for employers to not consult – using the excuse that there has not been time. It is absolutely ‘practicable’ to ensure that HSRs are involved in the return to work process.

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

Asbestos news  

WA: Ratepayers bear financial burden of Wittenoom asbestos compensation claims  
Wittenoom’s asbestos mining past continues to affect Shire of Ashburton ratepayers who face rising legal costs from compensation claims. The local government’s insurance coverage expired over a decade ago meaning it has paid $6.3 million on cases related to the ghost town, which is located within its boundaries, since 2008. In the past financial year the Shire has set aside $1.9 million to deal with the costs.

Ashburton president Kerry White said the nature of the claims had changed from involving long term residents to people who had just visited the area. She said, “It’s very unfair a local government has to pay this out when the State put the town there and the State got the royalties and we’re dragged into this with no help from the State. Earlier claims made were from those who were family members of mine workers, including spouses and children ... in more recent times, there has been a rise in claims received from tourists and people who visited the town for short-term work contracts who may have had building product exposure.”

The Wittenoom asbestos mine closed in 1966 and the town was de-gazetted in 2007. More than 2000 former workers and residents from the town have died from asbestos-related diseases.
Source: The West Australian 

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

International Union news 

UK: TUC guide risk assessments for homeworkers

Just as in Australia, many in the UK are working from home to reduce the spread of COVID-19. But the TUC says this exposes workers to other health and safety hazards, and many employers are ignoring their responsibility by not carrying out risk assessments. Union reps can help change this with the help of the TUC’s new guide to risk assessments for homeworkers. The guide gives guidance on workers’ rights and employers’ duties to address risks including accidents, injuries, mental health problems and violence. Read more: TUC guide to risk assessments for homeworkers.

UK: Inquiry call as low paid dominate COVID-19 worker deaths
Unite is calling for a full public inquiry after figures from the Office for National Statistics revealed workers in ‘low skilled elementary occupations’ (21.4 deaths per 100,000) were almost four times as likely to die from the virus as ‘professionals’ (5.6 per 100,000). ONS also found that male workers had notably increased mortality rates in a number of professions.

The 11 May age-adjusted figures for the working age population show the highest number of deaths were recorded in the following industries:

  • Social care sector, with 131 deaths recorded.
  • Taxi drivers, where there had been 77 deaths with a mortality rate of 36.4 per 100,000.
  • Chefs (37 deaths, 35.7 per 100,000 mortality rate)
  • Security guards (64 deaths, 45.7 per 100,000 rate)
  • Bus (30 deaths,  26.4 per 100,00)

Unite assistant general secretary Diana Holland said: “This is only an early snapshot of this dreadful disease but it is clear that lower paid workers have been at the greatest risk of dying during the pandemic.” She added: “An inquiry is needed to understand if measures such as the lockdown was introduced too late and whether frontline workers were able to effectively socially distance at work, if effective cleaning regimes were in place and if workers were provided with the necessary PPE to properly protect them.” Read more: ONS publication note and analysis of deaths in England and Wales related to Covid-19 by occupation the occupations in the UK that have the highest potential exposure to Covid-19Unite news release. Source: Risks

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