Union News

October 27: VTHC HSR Conference

There have been over 940 registrations for our 2020 VTHC OHS Conference, on October 27th 2020. We are going to keep reminding HSRs and DHSRs to register so if you haven't registered yet, do so as quickly as possible. 

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

The 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?

HSRs may be aware that for the past several years running, WorkCover claims for psychological injury have been rising. The unit continually gets questions from HSRs about psychosocial health: "What are the risks, how can I identify them, and what can I do about them?"

The issues around psychosocial can be more difficult for HSRs to get their head around: 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

Coronavirus (COVID-19) -  update  

According to the latest official figures, there are 26,778 cases of coronavirus disease diagnosed in Australia - an increase of 404 since last week, again almost all in Victoria. But after five weeks under Stage 4 restrictions, the numbers are steadily decreasing. Over the past week there have been fewer than 50 cases each day. The total number of COVID deaths is 816. Read more on the Victorian situation here.

The international situation remains horrific: the cumulative number of infections is 29,715,706  - last Wednesday it was 27,722,014this is almost 2 million more infections in just one week! There have now been 938,425 deaths around the world. India continues to have the largest number of new cases diagnosed each day: yesterday there were over 91,000 new cases, and over 1,200 deaths. The country with the most fatalities to date though is still the US with over 200,000 COVID deaths. Those who complain about the restrictions we are living under need to take a look at what happens when restrictions are lifted too soon or too quickly. 
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 

Do we need Safety Data Sheets (SDSs) for ink cartridges for office printers? Do we need to keep SDSs for products that are classified as not being hazardous or dangerous according to the product's SDS?

The regulations stipulate that the employer must have an SDS for all hazardous substances. There are also requirements for Dangerous Goods. The SDSs give information on what's in the product, exposure standards, medical advice, storage, ignition points, and so on. So if something is not classified as either hazardous or dangerous by the manufacturer, then there is no requirement to have one.
HOWEVER - it is always wise to ensure that any substance coming into a workplace has an up to date SDS - this is to:
  1. ensure that it is NOT in fact hazardous/dangerous
  2. take any precautions suggested - simply because something is not classified as 'hazardous' it does not actually mean it is 'safe' in all circumstances
  3. to ensure that a substance that comes in is the safest, least hazardous possible
  4. to ensure that no substance that may in fact be 'hazardous' or 'dangerous' slips in. 
SDSs for the hazardous substances need to be kept in a register - those for non-hazardous could be kept in a separate register. More information: Hazardous substances; Summary of the Hazardous substances chapter of the regulations and information on Safety Data Sheets 

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

Migrant Workers Centre identifies shocking conditions and underpayments

Workers at a large recycling factory in Melbourne achieved transformative changes at their workplace and recovered over a million dollars in stolen wages. These hard fought wins have been a result of the organising efforts of the workers and the Australian Workers Union (AWU). The Migrant Workers Centre (MWC) first learned of the situation at the factory a year ago when a worker went to them for help after being injured at work. The migrant worker from Sri Lanka had broken his leg when he fell from a platform - but was asked to lie about how he sustained the injury. The MWC assisted him with filing a WorkCover claim and in this process, discovered rampant wage theft and the hazardous work conditions at the factory.

He had worked at the factory for 3 years and describes the exploitative conditions they faced: “I used to work 6 to 7 days a week. I was doing night shifts so I started at 6pm and finished at 6am. We will have one lunch break... I was casual all these years.” He says, “we don’t take any leave - even if we are sick, we go to work. We saw [management] sacking workers who have taken sick leave.” Read the whole story in MWC August newsletter

Asbestos news  

NSW: 'Toxic soup' risks motorway

Construction on the $17bn WestConnex motorway in Sydney could come to a halt after dozens of workers on the major infrastructure project were exposed to a "toxic cocktail of poisonous chemicals" including asbestos, silica dust and lead. Workers at the M4-M5 Link Tunnels site at St Peters in Sydney's inner south raised concerns about their health and safety after drilling works turned up a black sludge material they said "stank" and ate away at the rubber soles of their work boots.

A SafeWorkNSW notice issued in August found workers “may  be  exposed  to  a risk  to  their  health  and  safety due to the inhalation of asbestos fibres or other hazardous material while  contaminated  soil  is  being excavated”.

Darren Greenfield, the Construction Forestry Maritime Mining and Energy Union’s state secretary, said it was outrageous that workers had been exposed to a “toxic soup of contaminants”. “Dozens of workers on the WestConnex project may have been exposed to a toxic cocktail of poisonous chemicals including asbestos, silica dust and lead in a shocking safety breach,” he said.

Mr Greenfield said the union would stop work on the project “within a week” unless the concerns of workers were addressed. “This is at the entry to the tunnels so it will slow anyone getting into the tunnels there,” he said. He said the industrial action would be a legal stoppage taken on safety grounds. “Workers were walking around the site and complaining to my organisers that after two days of putting on a new pair of boots, it was dissolving the rubber soles on their boots — that’s how contaminated it is,’’ he said. “For that sort of stuff to be happening shows how toxic it is. ”The SafeWorkNSW improvement notice, issued to Lendlease on August 24, noted work health and safety laws were being contravened. Of particular concern, the notice reads, is the “run off from an uncovered pile of soil possibly contaminating the access and egress (thorough) fare that was in close proximity to the contaminated pile”. Mr Greenfield said safety inspections at the site revealed that workers had been supplied with insufficient personal protective equipment, that air monitoring equipment had not been working and that contaminated soil from excavation work had not been not appropriately isolated.
Source: The Australian

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

International union news

Pakistan: Many dead in marble mine collapse

At least 22 workers have been killed and dozens are battling for their lives after a rock collapse at a famed marble mine in Pakistan's Ziarat Ghar mountain. Tragedy struck on the late evening on 7 September, instantly killing 12 miners, Geo News reported. The death toll rose after more died as a result of their injuries at the District Mohmand Hospital. Up to 20 others are believed to have been buried in the rubble. About 45 labourers had been working in excavation operations when the collapse occurred, the Dawn newspaper reported. The Provincial Disaster Management Authority (PDMA) said nine people had been rescued. Rescue Officer Bilal Faizi said most of the injured were in a serious condition. Kemal Özkan, assistant general secretary with the global union for the sector, IndustriALL, commented: “It’s a massacre. Both the central and provincial governments are well informed of the increasing fatalities in Pakistan’s mines. But despite frequent reminders and call for actions, such accidents continue.” He added: “Pakistan cannot wait for more workers dying and must work with national and international agencies, including the ILO and global unions, to improve mine safety. The central and provincial governments must immediately take steps to ratify and implement ILO Convention 176 on Safety and Health in Mines. IndustriALL will continue to work with its affiliates and social actors to intensify the mine safety campaign.” Read more: IndustriALL news release. The Hindu. Discourse on Development. Source: Risks 964

UK: Civil servants must not be forced into work - unions

The UK government's plans to get 80 per cent of civil servants in England to attend their usual workplace each week by the end of September are not acceptable, according to civil service unions. The unions were commenting after the permanent secretaries running government departments were told to greatly increase the number of staff in workplaces. The government and prime minister Boris Johnson claim sending tens of thousands of civil servants back to their buildings would be “hugely beneficial”. Departments have been set a target of 80 per cent of staff in England to attend their usual workplace each week by the end of September. Staff elsewhere in the UK are expected to follow local guidance and continue working from home.

PCS said it is asking departments to provide, as a matter of urgency the ‘Covid-secure limit’, current staffing and current risk assessment for each building. PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka said: “If the government or any employer starts forcing people back to work and we believe that it is not safe to do so we will firstly consider our legal options, secondly give individual legal advice, and thirdly consider whether a collective response is required.” He added: “As a last resort, if you have no other option and people’s health and safety is at risk, of course we would be prepared to consider industrial action.” Garry Graham, deputy general secretary of Prospect, said: “Employers need to be sensitive to the concerns of staff and ensuring a focus on workplace safety will be critical to building confidence. Over the past months our members have delivered magnificently despite the challenges. Prospect believes the setting of arbitrary timescales and targets is wrong and the managed and graduated approach should continue.”
Read more: PCS news release. Prospect news release. Daily Mail. BBC News Online. Source: Risks 964


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