Union News

Fatality in Bendigo

A fifty year old man was killed in an industrial incident a Thales site in North Bendigo at about 7.30 am on last Thursday morning. Police and inspectors from Comcare attended the site to investigate the incident. Because Thales is a self-insurer under the Commonwealth scheme, it is covered by Comcare and the WHS Act, and will not be affected by Victoria's new workplace manslaughter laws, which came into effect on July 1. This fatality will also not be counted by WorkSafe Victoria as a fatality under its scheme.

The Australian Manufacturing Workers' Union Victorian Branch offered its sincerest condolences and sympathies to the family and said, "We firmly believe it is every worker's right to return home safe after work."  

Truck driver dies in Gippsland 

A man has died while working to clear bushfire debris from a remote property in eastern Victoria. The 52-year-old from Cheltenham was driving a truck at Nurran, 30 kilometres north of Orbost, when he crashed into a tree and died at 9.30am last Monday June 29. The tip truck was carrying plastic wrapped asbestos contaminated waste. Bushfire Recovery Victoria confirmed the man was employed by a Victorian transport company sub-contracted by construction giant, Grocon.

However the cause of the crash has not yet been resolved. The Victorian Coroner will determine whether the man suffered a medical episode before the crash. "Speed was not a factor in the crash and the cab of the truck was largely intact," Orbost leading senior constable Denis Fenelon said.

Coronavirus (COVID-19) Update  

As of this morning, there had been 8,880 cases of coronavirus disease diagnosed in Australia - an increase of 1.044 since last week, almost all in Victoria. 106 people have died - two more than last week. The number of new infections in Victoria has continued to grow which has led to increased concern and tougher restrictions.  This disease is proving to be extremely contagious, more than originally thought - and there appears to be a reason why. Check out the item in the Research section of this journal. 

Since the last edition of SafetyNet, the state Premier announced on Saturday that two more post codes were being added to the list of 'hotspots. Then on Tuesday, the lockdown was extended to the whole of metropolitan Melbourne, and the Shire of Mitchell.  

Stage 3 Stay at Home restrictions – until at least mid August - are now once again in place, meaning for those living in Melbourne or in Mitchell Shire, there are only four reasons to be out:

  1. Shopping for essential food and supplies,
  2. care and caregiving,
  3. exercise (within suburb only), and
  4. study or work – if you can’t do it from home.

In addition, an immediate and 'hard lockdown' of at least 5 days of 9 public housing high rise apartment buildings in those suburbs was implemented. This means that approximately 3000 people living in those locations have been unable to leave their apartments for any reason. 

This continues to have implications for workers: "The pandemic continues to present industrial issues for workers. The RTBU in Victoria is now demanding that cloth face masks be mandatory on public transport. There have been 6 positive COVID-19 cases at a Coles Distribution Centre in Laverton (VIC) - but no shut down for deep cleaning and no paid pandemic leave for staff. Meanwhile, there have been severe deficiencies in processes with labour hire security guards at “quarantine hotels” in Melbourne including a lack of training, insufficient PPE, and guards being urged not to get tested for COVID-19. As predicted, the consequences of the pandemic are much more severe for those workers in casual, precarious and low-paid jobs."  (From the latest edition of the Workers Solidarity Bulletin)

The businesses and facilities in these areas that had been able to recently reopen (eg beauticians and hairdressers, gyms, libraries, swimming pools) will again be restricted. Cafes and restaurants will again only be open for take-away and delivery.

The number of new infections around the world continues to grow alarmingly. The number of people infected is now at 11,949,281 - last week it was 10,559,566, so this is almost 1.4 million more infections. There have now been 546,681 deaths. In Brazil, the country with the second most infections and deaths in the world, news today that its President, Jair Bolsonaro, has tested positive for COVID-19. Seeing this comes after months of downplaying the new coronavirus, and even hugging supporters in the middle of a pandemic, it makes one believe in Karma.  Read more: For more information on Coronavirus and COVID-19, go to this page on our site. 

Vic medical workers told to wear masks

Medical workers are being told to wear face masks to help curb the spread of the coronavirus in Victoria. Our Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton says it is a reasonable measure for workers in health settings to wear face masks. “Where community transmission isn’t negligible … masks are a reasonable thing to wear where you can’t physically distance. But we’re working up some communication materials and I’ll have more to say on that in coming days,” he said on Tuesday. He added that the advice was in line with statements made by the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee. Read more: The New Daily

This move comes as more medical staff are diagnosed with COVID-19. To date eight staff from the Northern Hospital in Epping, one of Victoria’s busiest emergency departments, have tested positive to COVID-19 in the past five days. A spokesperson said extensive contact tracing was underway, and the department was undergoing a deep clean. “All staff in the emergency department are being tested as a precaution,” the spokesperson said. Non-urgent elective surgeries and outpatient appointments have been postponed to free up capacity at the hospital, which will allow the emergency department to remain open.

Also, at the Royal Melbourne Hospital, medical staff are concerned about the risk of contracting the coronavirus during a training course for the hospital's new digital record system, after two nurses who attended the group sessions tested positive to COVID-19. Chief executive Christine Kilpatrick wrote to staff on Monday advising the hospital was working with the Victorian health department "to implement all appropriate measures, including contact tracing and cleaning" after the link to the training sessions was made. Sources: The New Daily; The Age

Ask Renata  

Hi Renata 

What is occupational health and safety law around how many toilets should be allocated to staff to use the working environment? What is the toilet per staff ratio?

The OHS Act does not mandate a toilet/staff ratio: it only says that the employer must, so far as is reasonably practicable, provide 'adequate facilities' for employees. Then what this actually means that the employer needs to do in order to comply is set out in the Compliance Code, remembering that the code is not law, and limited by 'so far as is reasonably practicable'. For most workplaces, this is what the Code says:


  Staff   Water closets   Urinals
  Male workers

  1 for up to 20 
  1 extra water closet for each additional 20 males (or part)

   0 urinal for 1 - 10 males 
   1 urinal for between 11 and 25 males
   2 urinals for 26 to 50 males
   1 extra urinal for each additional 50 males (or part)

  Female workers    

  1 water closet for up to 15 females
  1 extra water closet for each additional 15 females (or part)

Go to this page on the site to get the detailed information. 

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

Asbestos news  

Vic: Vale David Clement

It is with great sadness that we report that David Clement, past president of Asbestoswise, passed away peacefully at his home yesterday. David dedicated his life to improving the conditions of working people, both before and after his 'retirement'. Originally from the UK, David was a trainer and union official, most recently with the AMWU. When he retired, he dedicated much time and effort advocating for the rights of people with asbestos-related disease. He will be sadly missed. We send our sincerest condolences to his family. 

Vic: Council appeals for dumping to stop

Latrobe City Council has received multiple complaints about illegal dumping outside a scrap metal yard in Morwell and is taking measures to educate the community about where and how waste should be disposed. The Mayor, Councillor Dan Clancey, said the dumped material was unsightly, dangerous and inconsistent with the recent works to beautify the town entrances.

“While there has been a history of the community taking their scrap metal to the yard, and leaving it on the roadway and nature strip, even outside of business hours, the fact is it is illegal to dump any kind of material there.  The land and roadway are both Council-owned and there has been significant damage to infrastructure and even evidence of asbestos being dumped.  It could also be possible that dumped waste could lead to toxic material entering the storm water system.  Not only are there rate payer expenses to remove waste and fix infrastructure, this is not what we want for our town, the wider community and visitors to see,” Cr Clancey said. Read more: Latrobe City media release 

NSW: Asbestos clean up in primary school two years after parents complain

The NSW Education Department will conduct a further investigation into asbestos found at a Sydney primary school two years after worried parents first brought their safety concerns to the NSW Government’s attention. Last week it was revealed that friable asbestos had been found just 1cm below the surface of Yarrawarrah Public School’s oval.

The oval was only closed for remediation on June 13 this year, more than two years since parents first wrote to Heathcote state Liberal MP Lee Evans begging him to advocate for the school with the Education Department. On Friday the Department sent a new letter to parents promising to investigate the possibility of further asbestos in other areas of the school surrounding classrooms. Source: The Daily Telegraph

WA: New novel on Wittenoom

A New Zealand debut author has written a novel about the devastating events at Wittenoom to help raise awareness about the town and pay tribute to her father who died of mesothelioma. Kara Douglas spent 10 years working on The Air that we Breathe, a historical fiction exploring asbestos mining at Wittenoom - one of Australia’s worst industrial disasters. The story follows an Italian couple who move from Italy to Wittenoom in 1961 to work in an asbestos mine. Read more: The Pilbara Times

Reminder: Draft Asbestos-Cement Water and Sewer Pipe Management Guidelines available for public comment

A reminder that ASEA's  draft Asbestos-Cement (AC) Water and Sewer Pipe Management Guidelines is open for public comment until 5pm on Friday 7 August 2020.

The Guidelines provide information on AC water and sewer pipe removal and remediation methods and the issues that water agencies should consider in deciding how to safely manage AC water and sewer pipes. They aim to provide practical guidance on how to eliminate or minimise the risks of asbestos exposure when managing water and sewer pipes in accordance with the work health and safety and environment protection laws that currently exist across Australia.

Details on how to make a submission are included in the draft Guidelines. ASEA says that public feedback will help ensure the final version is useful and supports safe practices when managing and removing asbestos cement water pipes. Any queries about the public consultation can be sent to the Agency via email to [email protected].

Reminder: from July 22 watch Devil's Dust miniseries on Stan

Devil's Dust, the 2012 two-part ABC docu-drama mini-series will be available to watch on Stan from July 22. The series is based on journalist Matt Peacock's 2009 book Killer Company. It tells the tragedy of many Australian workers and their families afflicted with asbestosis and mesothelioma in the asbestos mining and processing industries though the true-life tale of Bernie Banton. (Information on the series sourced from Wikipedia)

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

International Union news

UK: Public enquiry ‘imperative’ on inequality and work practices

Unite is calling for an urgent public inquiry into the death rates of workers from COVID-19 during the pandemic. The union made its call following the publication this week of the latest Office of National Statistics (ONS) report into deaths by occupation up to 25 May 2020. The ONS found that nearly two-thirds (65.6 per cent) of COVID-19 deaths were of male workers. However, Unite said that attention must also be paid to the high level of deaths among women workers in sectors including retail, health and social care where there has been a total of 377 women worker deaths compared to 270 men.

The ONS found that 17 occupations have significantly increased death rates due to COVID-19, including taxi drivers and chauffeurs (135 deaths), security guards (107 deaths) and bus and coach drivers (54 deaths). In what Unite described as ‘disturbing’ findings, the report notes that of the 17 specific occupations that had increased death rates, 11 had a high proportion of black and ethnic minority (BAEM) workers. However, the ONS report does not record deaths by ethnicity and occupation. Unite assistant general secretary Diana Holland said: “The UK has suffered terribly from the pandemic and in the cold light of day society must take a hard look at why certain workers were particularly vulnerable to COVID-19. Many of the professions with the highest number of deaths are not only low paid but have both a long and unsocial hours culture, which often creates specific health problems over time.” She added: “A full public inquiry into these deaths must investigate not only if these workers were failed by a lack of PPE, but also if they were significantly more susceptible to the disease due to the cumulative effects that working long and unsocial hours had on their health.”
Read more: Unite news release. Coronavirus (COVID-19) related deaths by occupation, England and Wales: deaths registered between 9 March and 25 May 2020, ONS, 26 June 2020. Source: Risks 954

Germany: Meat union demands strict regulation and enforcement

New coronavirus hotspots in Germany's meat processing plants have highlighted the massive abuse of subcontracted migrant labour on which the industry depends, unions have said. More than 1,500 workers have been infected with Covid-19 at the giant Tönnies pork processing plant alone (SafetyNet 539 https://www.ohsrep.org.au/safetynet_sn_539), where local authorities have re-imposed strict lockdowns just as economic activity was reviving. Draft legislation published in May 2020 and due to take effect on 1 January 2021 would require the meat companies to directly employ their workforce, impose new oversight of working hours and payment and enforce strict liability for violations. However, unions say companies initially responded by threatening to leave Germany. Following the latest outbreaks, on 23 June Tönnies joined with two other leading companies in a pledge to voluntarily renounce subcontracting. The NGG union, which has been fighting for years to raise standards in the meat industry, denounced the companies’ declaration as a smokescreen to avoid strict legal regulation, stating: “Voluntary solutions in the meat industry have never worked and will not work. Working and living conditions in the meat industry will only be improved through strong laws.” 
Read more: OHS Matters, Workers Solidarity bulletin. IUF news release.  Source: Risks 954

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