Union News

October 27: VTHC HSR Conference

You can now register for the Section 69 approved 2020 VTHC OHS Conference, being held October 27th 2020.

This year, the theme is Risks to Psychosocial Health, and it’s being held entirely online.

If you’re just after the bullet points, the 2020 conference is:

  • Focusing on risks to psychosocial health.
  • Completely free.
  • Section 69 approved.
  • Being held entirely online and open to all Victorian HSRs (and deputies - but they will need to talk with their employer about attendance and payment).
  • On October 27th 2020.
  • Open for registration now.

Why Psychosocial Health?

For the past several years running, WorkCover claims for psychological injury have been rising. We're always getting questions from HSRs about psychosocial health: "What are the risks, how can I identify them, and what can I do about them?"

Sometimes psychosocial health can feel tougher to understand in the context of a HSR, but HSRs have all the same powers under the Act to address psychosocial hazards in their workplace, and employers have the same duty to address these hazards as they would a physical hazard.

An online experience.

With current restrictions across Victoria due to COVID-19, this year the conference is going to be held entirely online, but rest assured it's going to be the same great experience.

We’ll be mailing everyone out everyone a parcel with everything you’ll need to make the day a success - so make sure you register well in advance so there’s plenty of time for yours to arrive. Find all the details and register here

Tomorrow is RUOK? Day

September 10 is national RUOK? Day, according to the organisers, a "national day of action when we remind Australians that every day is the day to ask, “Are you OK?” if someone in your world is struggling with life’s ups and downs." While it is very important to care for those around us, particularly in these difficult times, from an OHS perspective, we need employers to be identifying employment-related risks to the mental health of their employees, and then take action to eliminate/minimise them. That's why we're asking Victorian HSRs and deputies to enrol and participate in our annual conference. 
Go to the RUOK? Day website for more information and resources. 

Coronavirus (COVID-19) -  update  

According to the latest official figures, there are 26,374 cases of coronavirus disease diagnosed in Australia - an increase of 555 since last week, again almost all in Victoria (but the numbers are coming down - last week there had been an increase of 766 new cases). 770 people have died - 113 more than last week.  This morning Victoria's Premier announced there have been 76 new cases diagnosed since yesterday - this number is higher than it has been over the past few days, which is of concern. Unfortunately, there have been eleven more deaths. Generally, though, the numbers are trending down consistently - but it is for this reason that the government has announced that, with a few changes, Melbourne will remain in Stage 4 restrictions for another two weeks. Read more on the Victorian situation here.

The international situation keeps worsening: the number of people infected is now at 27,722,014 - last Wednesday it was 25,889,110: this is once again over 1.8 million more infections. There have now been 900,876 deaths around the world - that's over 40,600 in one week. India has overtaken both the USA and Brazil in the number of new cases diagnosed each day: yesterday there were almost 90,000 new cases, and over 1,100 deaths. 
For more information on Coronavirus and COVID-19, go to this page on our site. NOTE: we have added some new checklists to the Action Plan for HSRs section of the page, so check these out. We would welcome your feedback. 

In Metropolitan Melbourne, while this is our sixth week under Stage 4 restrictions, and we are seeing the number of new infections coming down, the government has decided it is too soon to completely move out of this stage. So while as of September 13 there will be some relaxing of some of the restrictions, we are still fundamentally at Stage 4. Read more about the roadmaps for Melbourne and the rest of Victoria here

Ask Renata  

Hi Renata 

What are the OHS obligations to staff who have finished their shift or are yet to start but are 'loitering' around the car park or street?

Under 'normal' circumstances I would say this should not be much of an OHS issue...

However, due to the current situation with coronavirus, and the requirement for employers with companies/workplaces that are operating to have a COVIDSafe plan in place, this is what I think needs to be done:

  1. Consideration of and consultation around the COVIDSafe plan: while this may have been developed without input from the HSRs (although hopefully you and any other HSRs on site did have the opportunity to provide input), you can now raise that there are other issues that need to be discussed, namely the one  you've mentioned. Section 35 of the Act requires the employer to consult with HSRs on a range of matters, and the development, review and amendment of the workplace COVIDSafe plan would fit the criteria on matters on which there must be consultation. See: Duty to consult
  2. Discussion and assessment of the potential risk of infection when workers congregate outside - it could be that there is no/little risk, but to be safe there could be instructions from the employer, such as:
    1. everyone must wear a mask
    2. workers who have finished their shifts need to leave the workplace as soon as practicable
    3. workers coming in for their shifts should not arrive more than (say) 10 minutes prior to their shift commencing
    4. and any other matter/instruction you might identify
  3. Consideration of the areas where workers must 'clock on' or 'clock off', as well as entry and exit points from the workplace.
  4. And while this matter is being considered/consulted on, it would be a good opportunity to go through the COVIDSafe plan and check how it's working, whether there need to be any changes, whether any other risks have been identified, and so on.

For more general information and advice on COVID-19, go to the Coronavirus page on the site.

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

Ruling on breaks supports rights of workers to get a drink, go to the toilet

Employers have a WHS obligation to allow workers access to toilet and drinking facilities and cannot restrict such access to scheduled breaks, the Federal Court has confirmed after finding a major employer misled young workers on this issue in a Facebook post. Without going into too much detail, the Retail and Fast Food Workers Union (RAFFWU) launched proceedings against Brisbane-based McDonald's franchisee Tantex Holdings Pty Ltd after its general manager said on a staff Facebook page that if workers wanted to enforce the 10-minute-break rule then this break would "be the only time you would ever be permitted to have a drink or go to the toilet." Workers had complained that they were not getting their scheduled breaks. 

Justice John Logan found Tantex had breached the Fair Work Act, and said, "Denial of access as needed to toilet facilities or drinking water could, as a matter of ordinary life experience, have adverse health and safety ramifications for an employee and thus enliven the primary statutory duty of an employer found in section 19 of the [Queensland] WHS Act." (Source: OHSAlert)

This principle should now apply to all workers around Australia - see Drinking Water and Rest/meal breaks

Asbestos news  

WA: Perth guitarist John Meyer dies of mesothelioma 

Perth musician John Meyer, guitarist for legendary Australian blues and hard rock bands Rose Tattoo, Chain and Saracen, has died at age 67 after a lengthy battle with mesothelioma and other cancers. The first son of Dutch immigrants, Meyer grew up in the small farming town of Three Springs. Articles on his death describe at length his stellar music career, noting that he was inducted into the WA Music Hall of Fame in 1993. However there is no mention of when or how he came into contact with the asbestos that caused his mesothelioma, and eventually killed him. Read more: Kalgoorlie Miner

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

Stonemason seeking $2.5m in compensation

A 47-year old father-of-three, who would come home covered in dust after cutting stone products is unable to work, after developing the dust disease silicosis and rheumatoid arthritis.  Over 15 years as a stonemason, the man worked for 12 companies on the Gold Coast and around Tweed Heads in northern NSW – he was exposed to silica dust, and often without the protection of PPE. In August 2019, the worker was told the rheumatoid arthritis was most likely caused by the exposure to silica. He has now filed a $2.5 million personal injury damages claim against eight companies that manufactured or supplied five reconstituted stone products.

Lawyer Jonathan Walsh of Maurice Blackburn said his client’s injuries had a devastating effect on him and his family. Mr Walsh said the law firm was now seeing a number of clients with auto-immune diseases, including rheumatoid arthritis and scleroderma, resulting from silica exposure. Source: The Mercury. Read more: Silica

International union news

UK: Government ‘abdicating responsibility’ on work risks

The UK government has been accused of “abdicating responsibility” for making workplaces safe before urging people back to offices, ahead of the launch of a publicity campaign aimed at reducing working from home. The Independent Sage (I-Sage) group of scientific advisers has called for a national system of inspections to make sure even the worst employers are complying with social distancing best practice to keep workers safe. I-Sage said workplaces should have to be certified before employees return, and that unannounced inspections should be introduced to ensure they continue to follow the rules. The group also criticised the timing of the official push back to offices, which coincides with the mass return of pupils and students to school and universities – as well as a rise in daily Covid cases, with the UK reporting its highest daily number of new coronavirus cases since 12 June on 27 August, with 1,522 confirmed positive results. Yesterday, September 8, there were 2,460 new cases. 
Find out more: Independent Sage YouTube channel, 28 August 2020 and The COVID-19 Safe Workplace Charter and briefing document on ending work lockdowns in GB. The IndependentSource: Risks 963

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