Coronavirus (COVID-19) - update
According to the latest official figures, there have been 27,847 cases of coronavirus disease diagnosed in Australia and none of the new ones in the past few weeks have been in Victoria. We have had 'double zero' figures - no new infections and no deaths for 26 days straight. There are now also no active cases in the state. The total number of COVID deaths remains at 907. The restrictions in Victoria have not been totally lifted - masks must still be worn whenever leaving the house; if workers can work from home they should; and although most businesses have opened and activities recommenced, there are limits in terms of numbers. Read more on the Victorian situation here.
Internationally, the numbers of infections and deaths continues to be frightening. The cumulative number of infections is now 60,076,389. One week ago it was 55,932,624: this is again an increase of over 4.1 million more infections in just seven days. There have now been 1,413,702 confirmed COVID-related deaths around the world.
The good news in relation to vaccines continues: Health Minister Greg Hunt says the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine results have opened up a pathway to a "fully safe Australia", with the first doses set to be distributed to healthcare workers and the elderly by March.
The Federal Government has committed to buying 33.8 million doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, with 3.8 million of them to be imported from overseas manufacturing plants. It is the one of four vaccine deals the Government has committed to, and experts say it the cheapest and easiest option for transportation around the country.
The first 3.8 million doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine will most likely be the first to be distributed to healthcare workers and the elderly in March, if the vaccine gains Therapeutic Goods Administration approval. The other 30 million doses will be manufactured locally by Melbourne-based firm CSL. Source: ABC News online. For more information on Coronavirus and COVID-19, go to this page on our site.
I'd like to know the correct distance that needs to be free from obstruction of fire extinguishers and emergency door exits.
The OHS Act does not go into this level of detail. This is because OHS/WHS legislation in Australia is what we call ‘objective based’ – that is, the duties on employers require that they provide and maintain, so far as is reasonably practicable, a working environment that is safe and without risks to health (See Duties of Employers). This is called the ‘general duty of care’, and this covers everything. But the law is not ‘prescriptive’ – that is, it does not mandate HOW this should be done. The only exceptions are to do with certain chemicals like lead or asbestos, or things such as licences.
Under section 26 of the Act, there is also a duty on persons who control workplaces to ensure, so far as reasonably practicable, that the workplace and the means of entering it or leaving it are safe and without risks to health. The level of duty is in relation to matters over which the 'person' has management or control - the higher the level of control, the higher the duty. So things such as the physical workplace and emergency and evacuation plans are covered under this section. (See information on Emergency Evacuation). There is also some advice in the Workplace amenities and work environment Compliance Code about width of passageways, etc, but specific building requirements are in the building code.
Please remember: if you have any OHS related queries, then send them in via our Ask Renata facility on the website.
New resource for HSRs and unions
The VTHC has developed a library of EBA clauses which specifically address occupational health and safety. These come from unions, developed for use when they negotiate their EBAs. Others come from work done some years ago by the ACTU OHS Unit. Check out the EBA Library resource here.
Crown Casino workers win suspension of smoking
Following an eight-month shutdown at Crown Melbourne due to pandemic restrictions, this week the casino will reopen gaming areas, including VIP rooms where patrons can smoke. Initially Crown intended to pick up where they left off, and allow indoor smoking from this week, permitted under archaic exemptions by the Victorian Government.
However, under pressure from casino United Workers Union members, Crown has now advised they will suspend indoor smoking temporarily until the 6th of December. While workers are particularly concerned about the impact of indoor smoking during COVID-19, they are pushing to make this ban permanent post-pandemic. Chris, Crown Melbourne Dealer and United Workers Union member, said, “Crown has been allowed to endanger the lives of workers for decades. The time to eliminate the deadly hazard of passive smoke is now.”
Across the country, casinos are among the few venues where smoking is still allowed inside, but workers and the public are increasingly calling for an end to this practice. Earlier this year, The Star, which operate casinos in Sydney, Brisbane and the Gold Coast, announced they would phase out indoor smoking completely by the end of 2022.
Tobacco smoke is carcinogenic, and exposure to second-hand tobacco smoke in the workplace puts workers' health at risk. Approximately 1,000 Crown Melbourne workers are exposed to second-hand tobacco smoke as part of their work. The United Workers Union is calling for Crown Melbourne to transition to a smoke-free workplace and for all Crown workplaces to be smoke-free.
United Workers Union Casinos Director Dario Mujkic said, “This is an important step for the health and safety of both workers and the public. Now we need to make it permanent and transition all Crown venues to be smoke-free.”
Adrian, dealer/croupier at Crown, and an elected HSR and UWU Delegate, said, "It’s an amazing first step and it feels like this is the greatest opportunity to once and for all remove the smoking exemption at Crown. It’s been a long journey for many former and current HSRs and delegates that have played a significant part in this amazing win. We appreciate the knowledge, assistance and guidance provided by our union and the VTHC."
Read more: Environmental Tobacco Smoke. Source: UWU Media release
Asbestos Awareness Week November 23 - 29
Asbestos is still present in millions of Australian buildings and can be easily disturbed when doing renovations, home improvements and maintenance. If a building (workplaces, offices, hospitals, homes, etc) was built or renovated prior to 1990, there is a good chance it has some asbestos. Over 650 Australians died of mesothelioma last year. Experts warn the high number of cases could persist for years with hundreds more cases possible after latency of more than 30 years from work-related (builders, plumbers, gasfitters, mechanics and marine engineers) or other exposure. Firefighters may also be at risk after the devastating bushfires destroyed old buildings and sheds across Australia.
So we can never be complacent about asbestos - as reflected in this year's theme: ‘Asbestos lurks in more places than you’d think’ and will be supplemented with the sub-theme ‘before you start, be aware’.
The sub-theme relates to the fact that people are using the extra time we all have at home due to COVID-19 to do home improvements and maintenance. It encourages people to be aware of the potential asbestos risks before they start any work.
The campaign messaging has three parts:
- KNOW the health risks of asbestos exposure
- BE AWARE of where asbestos might be found before you start work (“it lurks in more places than you’d think”)
- CALL a professional to check, remove and dispose of it safely.
A campaign pack has been developed which provides a range of template materials, social tiles and graphics for organisations and individuals to use.
WorkSafe Webinar - Friday November 27
Join WorkSafe and guests for a free ‘Asbestos in Victoria’ webinar from 1 – 2.30 pm this coming Friday 27 November 2020. Hear about how the use of asbestos, even after its ban in 2003, still impacts Victorians and learn about the strategies in place to reduce exposure
WorkSafe’s occupational hygiene specialists will be joined by:
- Brian Healy, a mesothelioma sufferer
- Professor Tim Driscoll (University of Sydney)
- Dr Tom John (Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre)
- Executive Director Simone Stevenson (Victorian Asbestos Eradication Agency).
Sign up here today for the virtual event to secure your spot. You will receive your access link a couple of days prior to the event.
Migrant Workers' Centre news
Since the Migrant Workers Centre launched in 2018, they have assisted over 500 workers who've collectively clawed back over a million dollars in stolen wages, unpaid superannuation and entitlements, and WorkCover claims.
MWC Conference: The Pandemic, The Recession and Social Safety Nets
Migrant workers, unionists, campaigners and specialists in this field are invited to attend our upcoming Migrant Workers Conference: The Pandemic, The Recession and Social Safety Nets. The Conference will take place over three evenings from Monday 23 November to Wednesday 25 November. It's not too late to participate.
This year has been especially tough for migrant workers. From those on sponsorship or bridging visas to international students and working holiday makers - migrants faced this pandemic without any Federal government support.
The Migrant Workers Conference will explore the impacts of COVID-19 and the recession on migrant workers. Come to hear what changes migrant workers are asking Australia to make and add your voice. Click here to find out more and to RSVP. A written conference guide and multilingual glossary will be also be provided prior to the event.
NSW: two more food delivery drivers killed
An Uber Eats cyclist — understood to be a 37-year-old man from Malaysia — was killed after being hit by a truck carrying an excavator in Redfern on Monday night. Twenty-seven-year-old Uber Eats worker Bijoy Paul died on Saturday afternoon after being involved in a crash with a car at Rockdale in Sydney's south. Five delivery riders have died nationally in the past three months, four of them in Sydney, the fifth in Melbourne. The NSW Government has set up a taskforce to investigate a number of recent deaths of food delivery riders. The taskforce will be led by SafeWork NSW and Transport for NSW and will examine whether any avoidable risks may have contributed to the deaths.
Xiaojun Chen, Dede Fredy, Chow Khai Shien, Bijoy Paul and a fifth worker yet to be named, all died while working as food delivery drivers in the past 2 months. This cannot keep happening, these five lives lost have created irreparable holes in families and communities. Everyone should come home safe from work. At 1pm today food delivery workers and supporters held a vigil outside Uber's Sydney HQ to pay respects to those dead and call on food delivery companies to improve safety and protections for all workers.
Uber Eats has admitted the industry needs to do more to improve worker safety. A spokesperson from Uber said, "It is clear the industry needs to do more to improve road safety, and we are committed to playing a leading role in achieving this."
TWU National Secretary Michael Kaine said riders want to see urgent change and noted the move by the NSW Government to set up a taskforce. “This is a very sad time for delivery riders and anyone who works in road transport. A death of a worker will always send shockwaves throughput the community. The death of five workers in less than two months is devastating. Riders will today pay their respects to these riders and will also call for changes so that the carnage stops,” he said.
“The likes of Uber have been allowed to get away with trampling on workers’ right and risking their lives. Denying workers minimum rates, forcing them to race around to make enough to pay bills and threatening them with sacking if they are even a few minutes late is endangering workers. Workers urgently need minimum pay, training, proper protective gear and insurance,” Kaine said.
“It has taken four rider deaths in Sydney for the NSW Government to set up a taskforce. The State Government needs to get on with this taskforce and ensure workers are central to it. The Federal Government also needs to acknowledge its role. It’s not good enough that states are in a piecemeal way trying to address the problem these billion dollar global tech giants have created. We need the Federal Government to act and regulate,” he added. The union is calling for the Federal Government to investigate Uber and other food delivery companies.
Sources: TWU Vigil in memory of killed delivery drivers, and TWU to call for investigation into Uber; ABC news online
UK: Royal Mail workers to wear masks indoors
The introduction of mandatory facemask wearing in Royal Mail indoor work situations “is not an end in itself” insists postal workers’ union CWU. The move came after the company and the union agreed the measure, but with what CWU described as the “crucially important caveat” that this must not replace other preventive risk control measures. CWU deputy general secretary postal Terry Pullinger said: “In contrast to the first lockdown, the wearing of face masks is now commonplace in any under-the-roof area where people are together – be it on public transport or in shops. So clearly we would support this as part of an holistic approach to the safety of our members to stop the spread of the virus and to save lives, that people who are able to do so, wear masks in the workplace.”
He added “the disciplines that were in place during the first lockdown should be rigorously enforced once again, along with the wearing of face masks for those able to do so – ie. two-metre social distancing, all PPE in place, one person to a van and high levels of cleanliness for all equipment and buildings. The CWU supports all of these safety measures being applied so long as they are applied with equal status, and local reps and members should be demanding that all of these safety measures are in place.” CWU national safety officer Dave Joyce said the union is also pressing for the urgent introduction of a workplace weekly testing regime, adding it has “formally put this forward to Royal Mail Group in order to further improve safety, and reduce workplace transmissions and infections – as well as giving a huge reassurance to the workforce at this tough time.” Read more: CWU news report. Source: Risks 974
UK: Court victory on access to PPE and OHS protections for gig workers
A “groundbreaking” court victory on workplace safety protection for gig economy workers has been welcomed by unions and safety organisations. In a judgment delivered in the High Court in London on 13 November, Mr Justice Chamberlain ruled that Britain had failed to properly implement an EU directive on personal protective equipment (PPE) in relation to self-employed workers who provide a service as part of a business. He also found that Britain has failed to properly implement part of another EU directive designed to “encourage improvements in the health and safety of workers at work.”
The Independent Workers Union of Great Britain (IWGB) argued successfully that the directives required Britain to provide protection to “workers,” but that hundreds of thousands of gig-economy workers were left unprotected because British law only protected “employees.” IWGB brought its action against the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) and the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) in October. Following the ruling, lawyer Kate Harrison of Old Square Chambers, who acted for IWGB, called on the government to take “urgent steps” to ensure that gig economy workers can exercise their rights to health and safety and PPE.
Commenting on the court victory, TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “Everybody deserves to be treated with dignity at work. But many in low-paid and insecure jobs have been forced to shoulder huge risk during this crisis.” She said the judgment “shows that the government was wrong to exclude gig-economy workers from key health and safety protections. It must now urgently review other key areas where vulnerable workers miss out, including parental rights and redundancy rights. If ministers are serious about levelling up Britain, they must level-up working conditions.” Richard Jones, head of policy at the safety professionals’ organisation IOSH, said: “IOSH welcomes recognition from the High Court that ‘gig’ workers should have the same occupational safety and health protections as employees and emphasises that responsible organisations should already be protecting workers during this pandemic, to support both occupational and public health.”
This news comes as the VTHC launches a campaign for better wages and conditions for gig economy workers. In the past few weeks, five food delivery drivers have been killed while doing their jobs.
Read more: IWGB news release. Old Square Chambers news release. IOSH news release. Morning Star. Source: Risks 974