Union News

Electrician dies under house

On Tuesday last week a self-employed electrician was killed after being electrocuted while working under a house in Croydon. The death of the 37-year-old brings the number of workplace fatalities in Victoria this year to 47 - three more than the same time last year. The VTHC sends its sincerest condolences to the man's family, friends and work colleagues. On Monday, Daniel Andrews gave his condolences to the family of this young man, who has left behind a wife and two small children: a two year old and a five week old baby. He acknowledged that the restrictions currently in place would affect the funeral arrangements, and make this time even more difficult for the family.

Coronavirus (COVID-19) -  update  

According to the latest official figures, there are 25,053 cases of coronavirus disease diagnosed in Australia - an increase of 1,155 since last week, almost all in Victoria (but these figures do not include today's numbers). 525 people have died - 75 more than last week.  This morning Victoria's Premier announced there have been 149 new cases diagnosed since yesterday and unfortunately 24 more fatalities. The numbers are now consistently decreasing, as Stage 4 restrictions are now in the third week. Read more on the Victorian situation here.

The international situation keeps worsening: the number of people infected is now at 24,042,694 - last Wednesday it was 22,306,538, this is over 1.7 million more infections. There have now been 822,499 deaths around the world.  Read more: For more information on Coronavirus and COVID-19, go to this page on our site. 

Tributes to Paddy Garritty

Following news of Paddy Garritty's death of COVID-19 last week, Luke Hilakari, VTHC Secretary announced that an arts space at the Hall would be named after him: Garritty's Gallery. “We are considering a plan for artists to create works for the gallery, and to commission a major work of art every year,” Luke said. “It would be something I think Paddy would have liked - he was dedicated to the idea of bringing workers and the arts together.”  The arts community has also mourned the death of Paddy, who in the words of Mary Kenneally, was 'a glory of a person'. 
Read more: The Age Trades Hall space set to be dedicated to Paddy GarrittyArts community farewells Paddy Garritty, 'a glory of a person'

Workcover claims for infected healthcare workers approved 'as quickly as possible'

Premier Daniel Andrews yesterday announced that healthcare workers that are infected by COVID-19 have a streamlined, fast-tracked process in place so they can get looked after quickly.         

"There is a WorkCover system in place for [healthcare workers], and if you make an application ... it will be turned around in a matter of hours," Mr Andrews said. "The most appropriate thing is for those [healthcare workers] who end up with this virus through their work, one of the things is what we approve and process their WorkCover claims as soon as possible."

As of August 23rd, there had been 2,692 healthcare workers (including those workers in aged care and disability services) who had tested positive for COVID-19. Most of these cases occurred in July and August. During Wave 1 it appears that about 20 per cent had contracted the virus at work - with the majority having contracted it from either being overseas or from being in contact with someone returning from overseas. However, in Wave 2 it has been determined that most - between 70 and 80 per cent - had contracted COVID-19 at work. 

Victorian Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation secretary Lisa Fitzpatrick was quoted in today's Age that she was alarmed by the high number of nurses and personal care assistants who had contracted the virus, particularly in aged-care settings and private hospitals. She said more detail data was critical in determining whether staff infected had caught the virus from patients or whether the disease was being transmitted among staff members.

Call for 'fit testing' of masks in healthcare settings

The Victorian government is running a "fit testing" trial – which uses a machine to ensure mask are sealed to the face – for high-risk staff at Northern Health. A number of organisations are calling for the fit testing to be implemented in all health care settings.

The AMA's Victorian president Julian Rait said fit testing should be mandatory for any workers wearing N95 face masks, noting it was already routine practice in some hospitals in South Australia and NSW. The higher-grade masks are recommended for any workers caring for coronavirus patients. While ANMF Secretary, Lisa Fitzpatrick supported formalising guidelines around fit-testing, she said a well-fitting N95 mask was not foolproof. "You can't just be stringent in one area," she said. "You have to be vigilant in every single area of infection control." Read more: The Age

Ask Renata  

Hi Renata 

I am a truck driver and recently, since COVID-19, I have been constantly denied access to toilets at sites I visit. Previously there had been no issue. Can the companies legally deny me access to the toilets when I deliver and pick up containers and materials to them? On one occasion three clients in a row wouldn't let me use their facilities, putting me at what I believe was extreme risk. What do you suggest I do?

I am appalled by this behaviour! It is ridiculous and makes no sense.

The first thing I would do is ask to speak to the most senior person at the site. Point out that they previously allowed you to use the facilities and should keep doing so, as long as you comply with the workplace COVID-19 measures, such as physical distancing, general hygiene, washing/sanitising hands before entering and after using the facilities, mask wearing, signing in, and so on. These measures would ensure that no-one on the site is exposed to an increased risk of contracting COVID-19. Point out that it is unreasonable to prevent you from using the facilities if you follow these precautions - and if they do so they are putting your health and safety at risk. If they refuse, then let them know that this is not acceptable and that you will be following up with WorkSafe and with the company. 

If you continue to have issues, then I suggest making a formal complaint to the company you work for/are contracted to - that company has a duty to you as an employee or contractor and needs to contact their clients to ensure that you have adequate access to facilities. More information on toilet facilities.

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

Workers Solidarity Bulletin - COVID-19 feature

Check out the latest edition of the Workers Solidarity Bulletin, number 22. The edition has a feature on the implications of COVID-19 for employers, and other industrial related national and international news. Each edition has an OHS feature, written by the editor of SafetyNet. Subscribe to the fortnightly bulletin - it's free. 

VTHC launches Psychosocial Health Standard

Many modern workplaces have a number of hazards that put at risk the psychosocial health - or psychological health - of workers. As is the case for other workplace hazards and risks, the employer has a duty to identify these and then take action to eliminate, or if this is not reasonably practicable, minimise them. However, there is hardly any official WorkSafe guidance on this issue - much less legislation. After lengthy consultation with our affiliates, the VTHC has issued a Psychosocial Health Standard.  Read more: Psychosocial Health

The VTHC OHS Unit will be running a Webinar to launch the standard. Sam and Luke, the unit's Safety Boyz will be joined by Dominic Melling, lead OHS Organiser. They will discuss why the VTHC has felt it necessary to issue a standard, what it means and how to start using it.
When: 7pm Wednesday September 2
Where: We Are Union OHS Reps Facebook page  

Asbestos news  

August 27 webinar: Deductions for expenditure on environmental protection activities

Following a recent ATO tax ruling, in some cases asbestos testing and removal can now be claimed as a tax deduction. In July 2020, the Australian Taxation Office (ATO) finalised the taxation ruling TR 2020/2 for income tax: deductions for expenditure on environmental protection activities. It is applicable to homeowners who manage residential investment properties and includes tax deductions for:

  1. testing where asbestos is suspected (even if asbestos is not found)
  2. engaging a licenced asbestos removalist to remove and dispose of asbestos (including fences and sheds)
  3. replacing removed materials (resulting in a minor degree of alteration and improvement).

The widespread promotion of this taxation ruling is important to encourage the safe removal and disposal of asbestos from Australia’s homes, to prevent exposure to asbestos and eliminate asbestos-related diseases (ARDs).

The Asbestos Safety and Eradication Agency will be speaking at a webinar about this tax ruling, on Thursday the 27th August 2020. The webinar is being hosted by FAMANZ (Faculty of Asbestos Management Australia and New Zealand). Register here

When: 3.30pm AEST | 1.30pm AWST | 5.30pm NZST. 27 August 2020. 
Cost: $20 

Asbestos found in new Sydney ferries

The NSW government is being slammed from all sides following the delivery from Indonesia of a number of new ferries. First it was discovered that ferries which are destined for service on Sydney Harbour will not be able to travel under two bridges if there are passengers seated on the top deck. Then last week, asbestos was found on four of the new River Class ferries which arrived in Newcastle for testing. NSW Transport Minister Andrew Constance played down the incident and said the asbestos had been fully contained and removed and Transdev, a private transport operator, was responsible. Source: ABC news online. 

NHS mesothelioma drug trial suspended due to COVID-19

The global pandemic is affecting thousands of drug trials, including a phase two clinical trial for new drugs to treat malignant pleural mesothelioma which is being run by the British Lung Foundation. Dr Samantha Walker, the director of research and innovation at Asthma UK and the British Lung Foundation said: 'This is not good news for a cancer where survival rates are dismal and there is no cure.' Source: MSN news

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

Quad bike deaths already double the 2019 total

Last week it was reported that 14 people have already been killed riding quad bikes on Australian farms in 2020. This is almost double the total for 2019, prompting a consumer watchdog warning to drive carefully and fit safety devices to vehicles. Quad bikes are the leading cause of farm deaths. There have been 150 fatalities since 2011, six people go to hospitals everyday with quad bike-related injuries, and over the past 20 years an average of 16 people are killed each year.

Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) deputy chairman Mick Keogh said the death toll justified the new laws mandating roll-over protection on all new vehicles sold, which were strongly opposed by quad bike manufacturers. "For many years, manufacturers have been claiming rider behaviour is the major reason for the number of deaths and injuries. Their aim has been to shift the focus away from the unsafe design of quad bikes," Mr Keogh said.

The union movement has been fighting for regulation for many years. Following a summit on quad bike safety in 2012, then ACTU Assistant Secretary Michael Borowick said, "We have enough evidence that crush protection devices can save lives, it is now time for the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission to act. There are about 220,000 quad bikes in use in Australia, and they are the single biggest cause of workplace fatalities on farms.”

The following year, Safe Work Australia's then CEO Rex Hoy called for quad bike manufacturers to fit efficient crush protection devices (CPDs). The ACTU said this should lead to strong regulatory action to reduce quad bike deaths and injuries. At that time Mr Borowick said that there had been enough talk on quad bike safety and it was time for the ACCC and State and Territory workplace safety bodies to act. “There have been many, many preventable deaths and serious injuries from quad bikes.  And it is not stopping.  It is time to make quad bikes without CPDs illegal.” Read more: The Age ; ACTU Media releases October 2012, and May 2013

August 28: Equal Pay Day

Women have been disproportionately negatively affected by the COVID19 pandemic. Emergencies such as this have happened in the past and will continue to happen in the future until we dramatically change the systems and structures within which we live. Women in Australia already experience a gender pay gap averaging 14 per cent and emergencies such as these risk women falling further behind which is unacceptable. Unbelievable but true!

Join the VTHC Women's and Equity Team and women around Victoria on Equal Pay Day as we talk to three great experts about the impacts of COVID19 on working women and what they think needs to happen next to ensure women are not left behind in the pandemic recovery. The event is hosted by Victorian Trades Hall Council and will be facilitated by the co-Leads of the Women's Team, Jodi Peskett and Pia Cerveri

When: 1.00 - 2.30pm, August 28
Where: Zoom (of course!) 
Read more and register: Equal Pay Day COVID19 Panel Discussion 

International Union news

UK: Raise sick pay and extend furlough to tackle virus

A report from the UK’s Royal Society has concluded that statutory sick pay should be increased and the 'furlough' scheme extended on a flexible basis. Doing so would better manage a “crude” trade-off between lives and livelihoods as the UK economy reopens, according to Professors Sir Tim Besley and Sir Nicholas Stern.

The report warns that an abrupt and premature easing of restrictions would lead to a second wave of infections that would mean both a higher death toll and ultimately a greater hit to the economy. The report, published on 13 August and examining the economic implications of the handling of the outbreak, came a day after data showed the UK suffered the biggest economic hit of the world's richest nations between April and June while also incurring the highest number of excess deaths to date in Europe.

It argues that as the furlough scheme - which has supported the wages of 9.6 million workers - is phased out, statutory sick pay of £95.85 (AUD$157.78) a week is a major disincentive for workers to self-isolate. The blanket phasing out of the current furlough scheme across all sectors by October is not sufficiently sensitive to the risks of a second wave of infections, the report argues. Sir Tim Besley, professor of economics at the London School of Economics and co-author of the report, commented: “If people are being asked to self-isolate they need to be cushioned against the economic consequences of that.” Professors Stern and Besley also recommend minimising the rotation of staff between different shifts and the introduction of subsidised workplace testing - particularly in sectors where close contact is hard to avoid.
Read more: Royal Society news release and report, Economic Aspects of the COVID-19 Crisis in the UK, The DELVE Initiative,  August 2020. BBC News Online. Source: Risks 961



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