Union News

Victorian worker killed

It is with great regret that we note that a bindery finishing operator died in hospital on Monday after falling about 1.4 metres at a Clayton South marketing and printing business on October 1. WorkSafe believes the 64-year-old man was accessing a box on the first shelf of a pallet rack and was hoisting himself onto it when he fell forward onto a concrete floor. WorkSafe is investigating the incident.

All of us at the VTHC and the worker’s union, the AMWU, send our sincerest condolences to his family, friends and work colleagues.

The death brings the workplace fatality toll to 56 for 2020, five more than at the same time last year.

October 15: 50th Anniversary of West Gate Bridge collapse

At 11.50am on October 15 1970, a span of the West Gate Bridge, then under construction, collapsed. 2000 tonnes of steel fell 45 metres - 35 workers were killed, 17 were injured. Some ‘rode’ the bridge down and, miraculously, survived. All were traumatised, as were many people living the working class suburbs surrounding it.

Every year hundreds of people gather at the memorial plaque to hear speakers and remember those who were killed. This year, the West Gate Bridge Memorial Committee had planned a number of event to commemorate the  the 50th anniversary of the tragedy. However, due to the COVID-19 restrictions currently in place in metropolitan Melbourne, there will no event at the memorial. Instead, the Committee is working with the VTHC to live stream an event on our Facebook page

The event will begin at approximately 11.30 am, with guest speakers speakers David Setka, James Webster and Tommy Watson, who was working on the bridge the day it collapsed. Tommy went on to become a union official and eventually President of the CFMEU. Dave Setka is the grandson of Bob Setka, one of the 18 workers who survived on that day, and James Webster is the grandson of a worker who was killed. 

Check next week's journal for more details. 

Injuries in West Gate Tunnel project

According to WorkSafe reports three workers on the West Gate Tunnel project were hospitalised after seriously injuring their hands between May and July, including two subcontractors in the space of two weeks. However, of great concern is that the project's safety director believes that the incidents have been caused because workers have been 'distracted'. Posters with a photo of a four fingered hand captioned with "Things have been getting out of hand" and the question "What priority have you placed on your hands?" have been put up around the project.  

According to CFMMEU organiser Joe Myles, however, tight deadlines had been driving up injuries on the West Gate Tunnel project. "The job is so far behind; everything is a rush," he said. "They are cutting corners to catch up." When companies cut corners, workers get injured. 

The Age reports that a separate WorkSafe notice detailed unsafe work practices at the project's Millers Road site in Brooklyn. In some areas workers widening Millers Road under the West Gate Freeway had to crawl along an elevated scaffold deck to avoid hitting their heads on bridge beams above them – at times up to six times a day, and sometimes carrying tools, which could result in injuries, WorkSafe said. Read more: The Age

Coronavirus (COVID-19) -  update  

According to the latest official figures, there are 27,181 cases of coronavirus disease diagnosed in Australia - just 126 more than last week. The total number of COVID deaths is 897. After nine (!) weeks in lockdown, yesterday there were just six new cases in Victoria. Read more on the Victorian situation here.

The international situation continues to be dire: the cumulative number of infections is 36,041,783. Last Wednesday it was 33,828,215this is over 2.2 million more infections in just one week. There have now been 1,054,604 confirmed COVID-related around the world - but many experts say there is no doubt that this is a huge underestimation. Many countries do not have the health resources to properly diagnose the cause of death. 

The big news this week of course, was that both Donald Trump, the President of the USA and his wife, Melania, tested positive for Coronavirus. However, unlike the 7.7 million Americans who also contracted the disease, they have received the best treatment and no doubt most expensive treatment. This includes the use of experimental treatment. And unlike the 215,780 who have died, they appear to be recovering quickly. For the families of these people, President Trump's comment: “Don’t let it dominate you. Don’t be afraid of it. You’re going to beat it. We have the best medical equipment. We have the best medicines, all developed recently” is disrespectful and extremely hurtful. 

It is difficult to know for sure how many COVID-19 cases have been diagnosed as the 'White House' cluster, but at least 19 cases have been confirmed. Now, the White House press corps is increasingly anxious and angry about the Trump administration's handling of COVID-19 cases within its own building. Several reporters have tested positive and many are trying to determine whether they and their families need to quarantine. 

White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany announced Monday that she tested positive for coronavirus, sending White House reporters scrambling to figure out whether they had been exposed. McEnany briefed reporters without wearing a mask at the White House, a practice that speaks to the overall dismissal of White House officials around COVID-19 safety protocols.
For more information on Coronavirus and COVID-19, go to this page on our site. 

Ask Renata  

Hi Renata 

I am an HSR in a primary school. Does the school need to have an MSDS in every classroom for pencils, crayons, glue sticks, and so on? Unfortunately some our students eat the glue sticks!  Some classrooms could have over 50 items. Thank you

The answer is 'no' - you don't need an MSDS in each classroom for each of the 50 items.

The law requires that the workplace establish and maintain a REGISTER of MSDSs (or SDSs - safety data sheets - as they are now called) which lists and has a copy of the most up to date SDS for each hazardous substance in the workplace. This must accessible to all employees. I will assume that all the materials that students may be putting in their mouths are non-toxic - however this needs to be checked before any items are purchased and brought into the school. Therefore the glue sticks, crayons and so on are not hazardous, and do not require SDSs. However, just because something is not officially 'hazardous' it does not mean it is totally safe, so teachers, aides, etc, need to be provided with information on what potential effects ingesting the glue sticks for example, might have. 

Check this page for general information on hazardous substances, including an action plan for HSRs, and also a summary of hazardous substances regulations.

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

VTHC HSR Conference October 27: There's still time to register!

If you are an HSR and have not yet registered for the 2020 VTHC OHS Conference on October 27th 2020, then do so quickly. As we are posting out the materials, and the Victorian Post Office is currently under some pressure, unless you register by Friday, you may not get the materials. Remember too that HSRs are entitled to a day's leave with pay if they register and inform their employer at least 14 days in advance.  

To remind everyone, the theme this year is Risks to Psychological Health, and it’s being held entirely online. Read more about the conference on this page of the website. 

With uncertainty regarding restrictions in Melbourne and across Victoria due to COVID-19, this year the conference is going to be held entirely online - but it's still going to be a great experience.

We’ll be mailing a parcel of materials to HSRs and deputies with everything you’ll need to make the day a success - but to make sure it arrives on time, you need to register by this Friday so there’s plenty of time for yours to arrive. Find all the details, including a copy of the s69 Approval letter from WorkSafe and register here

Reminder: Anna Stewart Memorial Project for women unionists

Designed to encourage more women to be active in unions, the Anna Stewart Memorial Project (ASMP), which is running from October 12 - 23, is a structured, two week long skills development and leadership program designed and run by the VTHC's wonderful We Are Union Women team. The interactive workshops will be online via Zoom. The 15 workshops cover a range of topics including:

  • Sexual Harassment and Gendered Violence at Work
  • Union Women’s History Insecure Work, Covid19 and the Impact on Women Workers
  • Superannuation
  • The industrial relations system
  • Women in Bargaining
  • and much more

If you see a workshop that you would like to participate in but just can’t fit it in, many of the ASMP workshops will be recorded and available on the We Are Union Women Facebook page. 

The ASMP is free and open to any woman who is a member of her union and would like to participate. Women can register and attend as many workshops as they like which means being able to tailor the program to fit specific skills, interests, and schedule. If a participant would like to receive a certificate of completion for the Anna Stewart Memorial Project then she will need to attend at least five workshops over the course of the two week program. A participant can choose any five workshops - none is compulsory.  Women who have access to union training leave in their workplace agreement can apply for this leave to attend the ASMP. For more information on how to apply for union training leave contact the union. Check out the ASPM program and register for workshops here. For more information email Jodie at: [email protected]

Reminder to Gig workers: complete our survey now! 

Two weeks ago the VTHC Young Workers Team launched a new survey to get the views of gig workers. The Daniel Andrews State government wants to take action to better regulate gig platforms, following the findings of a major report into the gig economy. It's a chance to fix the wage violations, dodgy employment arrangements, and unsafe working conditions plaguing the gig economy in Victoria. 

The State Government will soon decide what recommendations it plans to pursue, and it is crucial to ensure that those changes are in line with what affected workers want. So the VTHC’s Young Workers Centre Gig Economy Survey for any worker who currently or has previously used online apps and platforms to find work; from transport and delivery platforms like Uber and Deliveroo, to health and caring work on platforms like Mable and Care.com, to ‘odd jobs’ platforms like Airtasker.

If that’s you - fill in the survey to tell the government how you want your working life to be improved, and together the VTHC will fight to make sure it happens. For those with friends or family members who work in the sector: tell them about the survey too. 

Asbestos news  

James Hardie stops funding asbestos research

Each year in Australia approximately 700 people still die a terrible death from mesothelioma. In an article in The Financial Review it has been revealed that James Hardie is no longer paying an annual $500,000 paid towards funding research into a treatment and cure. That funding was part of a 10-year agreement with the Australian government, which concluded in 2018 - and the moment it did, the funding ceased.  The amount is not great – so why would the company not just continue to provide the funds? In fact CSR, the other major asbestos manufacturer in Australia at the time, has increased its contributions to research by 50 per cent. Read more: James Hardie stopped funding asbestos research the moment it could. The Financial Review 

US: Asbestos Ban Bill update

Hopes were dashed on September 29, 2020 when the House of Representatives failed to pass a bill – H. R. 1603 – banning asbestos in the US. Commentators from the Democratic Party claimed that the bill’s progress had been stalled by Republicans over potential legal ramifications the legislation might have had on toxic talc lawsuits. Expressing his disappointment over this turn in events, Frank Pallone Jr., Chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee, said: “Everyone should be able to support a ban on this known carcinogen, which has no place in our consumer products or processes. More than 40,000 Americans die every year from asbestos exposure, but Republicans are willing to look the other way.”
Read more: Asbestos ban stalls in Congress amid partisan fight, The Hill. Source: IBAS 

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

International union news

UK: Government admits COVID airborne transmission risk

A UK government COVID-19 prevention strategy based on an assumption the disease was transmitted by close contact with viral-loaded droplets was wrong, latest Public Health England (PHE) guidance suggests. The 2m and 1m+ social distancing rules and recommendations limited the best respirators to those in the immediate vicinity of infected individuals or using ‘aerosol generating procedures’ meant only a small proportion of workers were provided the more effective respirators and other stringent protective measures.

But revised guidance on ‘SARS-CoV-2’ issued by PHE on 30 September notes COVID-19 “is primarily transmitted between people through respiratory (droplet and aerosol) and contact routes. Transmission risk is highest where people are in close proximity (within 2 metres). Airborne transmission can occur in health and care settings in which procedures or support treatments that generate aerosols are performed.” Crucially, though, the guidance now adds: “Airborne transmission may also occur in poorly ventilated indoor spaces, particularly if individuals are in the same room together for an extended period of time.” The recognition of airborne transmission indicates a much wider group of workers could be at risk, and helps explain the higher COVID-19 death rates in some non-medical service sector jobs and in construction identified by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) in a 22 September report. It could also explain the high number of outbreaks now hitting a wide range of UK workplaces. In July, over 200 scientists backed a letter to the World Health Organisation (WHO) urging it to recognise the risks posed by airborne transmission. The UK government had until this revision of its guidance followed the WHO’s controversial line downplaying the risks of airborne transmission.
Read more: COVID-19: epidemiology, virology and clinical features, PHE guidance, updated 30 September 2020.
Coronavirus (COVID-19) related deaths by occupation, before and during lockdown, England and Wales: deaths registered between 9 March and 30 June 2020, 22 September 2020.
Lidia Morawska, Donald K Milton. It is Time to Address Airborne Transmission of COVID-19, Clinical Infectious Diseases, ciaa939, 6 July 2020. 
WHO knew? WHO’s complacency over work virus risks a world class disasterHazards special report, July 2020. Source: Risks 968

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