Union News

Two work-related fatalities in one week

There have been two fatalities in Victorian workplaces in less than a week. In the first a worker was killed on Monday February 1 at the production facility of a hay bale exporter in Bridgewater, near Bendigo. Early indications from WorkSafe are that the 29-year-old man suffered fatal injuries when he became entangled in machinery just before 12.30pm. It is particularly tragic when a worker as young as this is killed. 

The second death occurred last Saturday, February 6. A 63-year-old aged care resident died following an incident while being transported in a taxi at Echuca. WorkSafe believea the woman died after her chair tipped backwards when the taxi braked. 

The deaths bring the workplace fatality toll to two for 2021, 10 less than at the same time last year.

There was also a fatality at the end of last year: A 53 year-old gardener was killed after the ride-on mower he was operating rolled down an embankment at Lilydale on Thursday, December 17. WorkSafe believe the man was crushed by the mower as it rolled.

That death brings the workplace fatality toll to 63 for 2020, two less than at the same time in 2019. 

WorkSafe is investigating all three fatalities. 

All of us at the VTHC send our sincerest condolences to the families, friends and work colleagues.

Coronavirus (COVID-19) -  update  

Australia has had a total, to date, of 28,860 cases of coronavirus disease diagnosed. Most of the new cases over the past few months have been diagnosed in returning travellers in hotel quarantine.  However, there have recently been three Victorian hotel quarantine workers who contracted the virus. There are fears that a cluster at the Holiday Inn quarantine hotel at Melbourne Airport is increasing. As a result, the Andrews government re-introduced certain restrictions - such as mandatory wearing of masks indoors (including in workplaces) and a reduction in the number of visitors allowed in private homes. We have updated the information on the website: Coronavirus the Victorian situation and Masks and face coverings.

Internationally, the numbers of infections and deaths are still climbing, with some countries continuing to record huge increases.  On December 16 last year, the day SafetyNet was posted, the cumulative number of infections was 73,830,321 - this morning, February 10, 2021, the worldwide infections are at 107,376,344 (note: the numbers are updated continually). There have been 2,348,680 COVID-related deaths around the world. 

The big news since December, however, is the development and roll out of a number of vaccines. These have been developed and approved in a relatively short period of time, and some countries have begun mass vaccination programs of their people. Australia has yet to commence our vaccination program - but with the number of infections so low, everyone agrees that it is wise to wait. 

Ask Renata  

Hello Renata 

The latest Victorian COVID restrictions state that face masks are mandatory in public indoor spaces. Does this include workplaces, for example office areas, workshops, warehouses etc?

Yes, it does. The instructions, for the moment at least, are that masks must be worn indoors, and this includes all workplaces. The only exception is if there is a lawful reason not to - this is usually a medical reason. Masks must also be worn in commercial vehicles, public transport, flights to and from Victoria, and in airports. The CHO is even recommending that we consider wearing masks when we visit someone else's home.  See advice specific to Victoria, here

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

Union urges stronger national laws on silica

The Australian Workers Union is leading a push for tougher national regulations to protect all workers exposed to deadly silica dust, with fears Australia could be hit with a “tsunami” of deaths in the coming decades. 

Silicosis is caused by breathing in chrystalline silica dust, which scars the lungs, making it increasingly difficult to breathe. The dust is generated in workplace mechanical processes such as crushing, cutting, drilling, grinding, sawing or polishing natural stone or, even worse, man-made products that contain silica, such as manufactured stone.

Last year, more than 350 people were diagnosed with the disease - and health authorities fear with thousands of workers exposed over the past decade, many more could develop the illness. Unlike asbestosis and mesothelioma, which can take decades to develop, silicosis affects young and healthy workers in their 30s and 40s, and can often be fatal. Some sufferers may eventually need a lung transplant.

AWU national secretary Daniel Walton said preliminary reforms recommended by the National Dust Disease Taskforce would only provide extra protection for stonemasons, leaving the construction industry, miners, quarry workers and tunnellers “out in the cold”. 
Read more: The Sydney Morning Herald. More information on Silica.

Asbestos news  

Star Wars actress dies of mesothelioma

Australian actress and pop singer Trisha Noble has died at the age of 76. Trisha, who had several hits in the 1960s and also appeared in two Star Wars films, died on January 23 after an 18-month battle with mesothelioma. Born in Marrickville, Sydney, she began her career on Bandstand, and in 1961, won Best Female Singer of the Year at the Logie Awards. She moved to the UK, signed a two-year contract with Columbia Records, and in 1967 moved to the USA. It is not clear where or when she was exposed to asbestos. Read more: The Daily Mail.

International Union News

UK: 'Dire consequences' if workers not protected better

Workplace exposure control experts in the UK have warned of ‘dire consequences’ if better protection of workers from COVID-19 is not put in place. The British Occupational Hygiene Society (BOHS), which is the chartered body for workplace exposure professionals, was speaking out after latest Office for National Statistics (ONS) figures on COVID-19 deaths revealed ‘alarming trends’ (Risks 982).

BOHS president Kelvin Williams said: “People are dying unnecessarily, because there is still insufficient understanding of occupational hygiene measures that can prevent the spread of this disease.” BOHS said the figures prove that more focus needs to be placed on getting the right workplace protections into the right sectors, including effective respirators for all key health and public-facing workers and more attention to other protection, including proper ventilation, enforced social distancing and hand hygiene in the workplace. BOHS said it has “consistently campaigned since March 2020 to ensure that the NHS provides all its frontline workers with properly fitted filtering respirators within the context of properly thought out and managed occupational hygiene precautions, including ventilation.” The BOHS call for the more effective respirators – as opposed to the far less protective surgical or medical masks - to protect workers from COVID-19 has also been a repeated demand of unions and occupational medicine experts. They are concerned the UK's regulator, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) continues to ignore the findings of its own research.

A 23 January 2021 paper co-authored by Manchester University’s Professor Raymond Agius observed: “It is not clear why the HSE is still not recommending respirators as PPE for public transport workers and other public-facing occupations, as well as in health and social care in situations where control at source, barriers, and ventilation are not adequate”. In an April 2020 Occupational Medicine paper, Prof Agius cited a 2008 HSE study that concluded: “Live viruses could be detected in the air behind all surgical masks tested. By contrast, properly fitted respirators could provide at least a 100-fold reduction.”
Read more: 
BOHS news release and report, BOHS – COVID-19: Occupation Risk Rating and Control Options According to Exposure RankCNN News.
Raymond M Agius. Covid-19 and Health at Work. Occupational Medicine, volume 70, number 5, pages 349-351, April 2020.
Raymond M Agius, Denise Kendrick, Herb F Sewell, Marcia Stewart, John FR Robertson. Reaffirming health and safety precautionary principles for COVID-19 in the UK, The Lancet, volume 397, issue 10271, page 274, 23 January 2021.
Health and Safety Executive. Evaluating the protection afforded by surgical masks against influenza bioaerosols: Gross protection of surgical masks compared to filtering facepiece respirators, Research Report RR619, 2008. Source: Risks 983

The situation for workers in the UK is horrific with the number of COVID-19 infections and deaths extremely high. For more news about what workers are facing, go to Risks 983, and earlier editions.

USA: Poultry plant nitrogen leak kills six workers 

A liquid nitrogen leak at a US poultry plant killed six people on 28 January, and sent at least 11 others to the hospital, some in a critical condition. The incident occurred at the Prime Pak Foods plant near Gainsville, Georgia. The firm, which earlier in the month merged into the Foundation Food Group, processes chicken for restaurants and food service operations. It is believed the asphyxiations occurred when a nitrogen line ruptured in the facility. When leaked into the air, liquid nitrogen vaporises into an odourless gas that is capable of displacing oxygen. That means leaks in enclosed spaces can become deadly by pushing away breathable air, according to the US government agency the Chemical Safety Board (CSB), which is investigating the incident.

Gainesville is the centre of Georgia’s massive poultry industry, with thousands of employees working for multiple processing plants. Much of the workforce, like in many meat processing plants nationwide, is Latino. Stuart Appelbaum, president of the union RWDSU, which represents over 15,000 poultry workers at facilities across the southern United States, said: “The egregious, lack of standards at non-union facilities like the one in Gainesville cost essential workers their lives today. We cannot allow this to continue to happen. Workers' lives are not disposable.” Two workers died in a December 2020 nitrogen leak at a plant of the meat producer Golden West Food Group in Vernon, California.  
Read more: 
RWDSU news releaseCSB statementNew York TimesInsurance JournalThe GuardianBBC News Online. Source: Risks 983 

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