Union News

Worker killed by falling steel

A man was killed last Wednesday after he was struck by steel which fell from an elevated storage rack at a Dandenong South storage facility. WorkSafe believes the 61-year-old man was using a reach stacker when the incident occurred.

The regulator is investigating the fatality. The death brings the workplace fatality toll to five for 2021.

No worker should die at work: each death is preventable. The VTHC sends our sincerest condolences to the family, friends and colleagues of the deceased worker. 

Coronavirus (COVID-19) -  update  

Australia has had a total, to date, of 28,937 cases of coronavirus disease diagnosed.

Internationally, the numbers of infections and deaths are still climbing, although it is hoped that when the vaccines take effect, the increases will reduce. The cumulative number of infections last Wednesday was 112,636,741  - the number today is 118,146,046. This is over 5.5 million more cases (note: the numbers are updated continually). There have been 2,621,154 COVID-related deaths around the world.

As of today, there had been over 18,300 Victorians who have received their first vaccine. The roll-out of vaccines continues around the country and health authorities are confident that the goals set will be achieved. This is despite news last week that the Italian government had blocked 250,000 doses of the Astra-Seneca vaccine from being exported to Australia. We will soon be manufacturing large numbers of the vaccine in Melbourne, and so blocking this vaccine should not harm our vaccine program in the long term. However, if Europe prevents the export of the Pfizer vaccine then that could cause a few issues, as we do not have the capacity to manufacture this vaccine, and there are 20 million doses on order. The ABC's Dr Norman Swan has said that the Pfizer vaccine should be used for those workers who are in direct contact with overseas arrivals as it is faster working than the Astra-Zeneca vaccine, and is also apparently more effective against some of the new variants of the disease. He said that while these countries need the vaccines, we need them too. 

However, Italy needs the vaccines much more than Australia does. While we have almost zero cases, Italy has seen a surge, with almost 20,000 new cases and over 300 deaths daily. The country has had a total of 3,101,093 cases, and 100,479 deaths. Germany too is experiencing a surge in numbers since the end of last year, with over almost 7,000 new cases and over 280 deaths daily. Germany has had a total of 2,520,609 cases and 72,981 deaths.  

For more information, go to these pages on the website: Coronavirus disease; Coronavirus the Victorian situation and COVID-19 Vaccines

Ask Renata  

Hi OHS Unit,  

My team and I work at a workplace where we do rotating shifts. Recently, the management issued us with an internal memo which stated that workers are not allowed to sleep or nap in the break room during their break time. I would like to know whether there are any regulations in regard to this?

There is nothing in the Victorian Act or the Regulations which prohibits people napping during their scheduled breaks - or in any WHS/OHS legislation around Australia. In fact, meal breaks (ie the longer break) are usually unpaid time, so workers are entitled to do anything they like during these breaks. Even if the breaks are in paid time, the reason why workers must have regular breaks is to eat, drink, refresh themselves, and rest - and this may mean taking a nap. A safe system of work, as per Section 21 of the Act, includes the provision of adequate breaks. Read more: FAQ on Rest/meal breaks

The only issue may be if management is concerned that taking a nap/sleeping during break has unintended effects – such as people missing the end of the break and getting back to work late (an industrial issue) or being groggy after a sleep and then operating machinery (an OHS issue). 

What I recommend is that you raise the issue with your employer/employer rep to ask what the reasons are for this new rule - if they give you any specific concerns or reasons, make sure you ask for evidence to support their position. You also need to point out that if it’s in any way OHS related, then they should have consulted with you as the HSR, as is a requirement under s35 of the OHS Act (see: Duty to consult). 

If you don’t get anywhere, then you can follow up the issue using your powers and the processes under the OHS Act - see: Resolution of issues 

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

Sexual harassment in the workplace

It's hard to avoid this topic as more allegations emerge of sexual assault within Federal Parliament, claims of inappropriate workplace behaviour by Federal cabinet ministers, including Attorney-General Christian Porter, and a historical rape allegation against the Attorney-General. Last week Federal Finance Minister Simon Birmingham announced an independent review of the workplaces of Commonwealth parliamentarians and their staff, to be conducted by the Australian Human Rights Commission and led by Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins. 

Birmingham said the aim of the independent review will be to ensure all Federal parliamentary workplaces are safe and respectful, and lead by example. Ironically, Porter, who strenuously denies the rape allegations, oversees Safe Work Australia, Comcare and the Commonwealth WHS Act in his role of Industrial Relations Minister. 

Kate Jenkins said the new Commonwealth review will build on the findings from her national inquiry into workplace sexual harassment, which was finalised early last year, and also made a number of WHS-related recommendations, which included that Australia's WHS ministers agree to amend the model WHS Regulations to prescribe control measures for psychological risks, as recommended by a previous review of the model laws, and develop guidelines on preventing sexual harassment (such guidelines were released by SWA last month). Read more: Statement from the Australian Human Rights Commissioner and more on the Review. Information from SWA: Workplace Sexual Harassment  and Guide: Preventing workplace sexual harassment

Union welcomes announcement on more help for emergency workers

The United Firefighters Union has welcomed last week's announcement by the Andrews Labor Government that as part of its response to the Royal Commission into Victoria’s Mental Health System emergency service workers will receive better support and more accessible mental health services. A special working group will be established in coming weeks with Victoria Police, Ambulance Victoria, ESTA and their unions to work through how changes to responses to 000 calls will be implemented.

Premier Daniel Andrews outlined the key changes and also announced a new $6 million Centre of Excellence for emergency service workers to provide better mental health support services for these workers and volunteers, including those who have retired. Delivered in partnership with a specialist network of clinicians, the Centre will build greater understanding of the unique mental health needs of emergency service workers – ensuring health professionals have the advanced skills and tools they need to support these employees.

The union stressed that having quick access to targeted services was crucial for firefighters with post-traumatic stress injuries (PTSIs) and other mental health issues. The UFU's Victorian secretary Peter Marshall said career firefighters are exposed to fatal incidents and other tragedies on a daily basis, and this "accumulated exposure takes a toll on [their] physical and psychological wellbeing". Mr Marshall said, "Extensive research conducted in Australia and internationally has shown that first responders, including professional firefighters, suffer PTSI, depression and other psychological illnesses at a much higher rate than the [general] population. If left untreated this can lead to alcohol and drug abuse, relationship breakdowns and even suicide. Providing specialised support and making it available early on means people can manage the pressure of their work." Read more: Victorian government media release 

Asbestos news

Victoria releases Asbestos Disposal Management Plan

The Victorian Government has released its Asbestos Disposal Management Plan. The plan aims to ensure that Victoria has the infrastructure and supporting systems to enable safe disposal of waste asbestos. Read more: Victoria releases plan or visit Sustainability Victoria for more information.

QLD: Asbestos rules amended

Queensland's asbestos regulations have been amended to reclassify low density asbestos fibre board (LDB) as a friable-asbestos-containing material. The new classification will mean that LDB can only be removed by a class A licensed asbestos removalist. The changes will take effect from 1 May 2021. Read more: ASEA article or visit WorkSafe Queensland for more information.

ACT: new public register for asbestos, high risk and major hazard facility licences

From 1 February 2021, anyone with an ACT licence for asbestos removal (class A and B), asbestos assessment, high-risk work and major hazard facilities must have their licence details published on WorkSafe ACT’s online register. Read more: ASEA or visit WorkSafe ACT for more information.

NSW: asbestos in schools still huge problem

The number of NSW schools known to have friable asbestos has grown in the past 18 months, according to new figures revealed in NSW Budget Estimates last week. 352 schools have been identified as having friable asbestos — a figure Labor upper house MP Courtney Houssos claimed had tripled from 109 schools from 2019.

However, despite some of these schools being rated as “high priority” for removal, School Infrastructure NSW chief executive Anthony Manning said that did not mean they had to be removed but simply monitored (!!). “More than half of the elements are in things like kilns and heaters … or vinyl floor tiles,” Mr Manning said. “They are not decaying in the atmosphere … high priority means it doesn’t need to be removed.”

Anthony Manning clearly does not understand the definition of 'friable' (both in the Department’s official Asbestos Management Plan and in the regulations). If floor tiles have asbestos in them, then it is not friable.  Friable asbestos creates an unacceptable risk to those who may be exposed - students and teachers in these schools. Read more: The Daily Telegraph which includes a list of schools.  

November: National Asbestos Awareness Week

This year, National Asbestos Awareness Week will be held the week of 22 - 28 November. 

The Asbestos Safety and Eradication Agency (ASEA) says that the 2020 week saw excellent participation from organisations all over Australia, spreading the message that asbestos can be present in more places than you’d think. There was a range of different activities that focused on knowing the health risk of asbestos, taking precautions before working with potentially asbestos-containing materials, and seeking professional help.

The Agency will be developing this year’s campaign for National Asbestos Awareness Week and will be sharing the theme and related key messages in the coming months. As with previous years, it will work closely with stakeholders to develop a consistent and tailored theme and related messaging for 2021.

This year, ASEA will continue to provide updates for National Asbestos Awareness Week through the National Asbestos Awareness Week mailing list. To ensure you receive the latest information, updates and news, subscribe to the mailing list.  

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

NSW: Delayed State funeral for Jack Mundey today

Green bans founder and former NSW Builders Labourers Federation leader Jack Mundey was honoured at a state funeral in Sydney today. The memorial service, held at 11am at Sydney Town Hall, was also live-streamed. Mundey died in May last year, but the coronavirus pandemic made it impossible to hold a funeral with large numbers of mourners.

In his memory, we reprint the May 2020 SafetyNet item: 

Veteran unionist and environmentalist Jack Mundey, who campaigned to protect some of Sydney's most famous areas from development, died this week aged 90. He was secretary of the Builders Labourers Federation (BLF) in the late 60' and early 70's, which was best known for its green bans - 42 in all - stopping several developments at The Rocks, and saving many historic sites. His actions and those of the union members who refused to work on projects they deemed to be environmentally or socially undesirable provided the inspirations for the world's first Green Party, established in Germany. He was also an activist for worker rights, indigenous rights and also social justice causes such as affordable housing. 

Throughout the 1960s, Mundey led thousands of militant builders’ labourers in courageous and often dangerous campaigns for better work conditions. These workers were poorly paid and conditions were very unsafe. Once, as reported in the Guardian, BLF militants heaved a flimsy substandard work shed into a large hole on a construction site.  Concrete pours were stopped until basic demands were met. 

Mundey was elected secretary of the BLF in 1968, and during the period of his leadership, union meetings were translated into seven languages to meet the needs of members, the majority of whom were migrants. For the first time, women were admitted as members and organisers of the union. Later Mundey was clear that without this fight for the dignity and safety of workers, he and fellow leaders would not have won rank and file support for their green bans. 

A 'life-long radical', he will be remembered by many as a true Australian hero. He inspired many and his work lives on. Vale Jack Mundey. 

Read more: ABC online, The Guardian, CFMMEU media release.- including a video with an interview of Jack Mundey himself and historical footage.   

International Union news

UK: Cruise ship accommodation for site workers questioned

Plans by the London Resort, the Disney style theme park due to be built in the Kent estuary, to house 2,000 construction workers on a cruise ship in the Thames estuary must not go ahead without full consultation, the union Unite has said. Under the plans, which were revealed this week by BBC Radio Essex, after completing their shifts the workers would be transported across the Thames to the cruise ships. The construction project is due to begin in 2022.

Unite has said the success of the scheme requires the London Resort project to address the union’s concerns about the quality of the accommodation, the cost of both the accommodation and food, and the ability of the workers to freely leave the ships and venture into the local area. Unite national officer for construction Jerry Swain said: “On the face of it this looks like an attractive option for workers. The Hinkley Point project has demonstrated how good quality accommodation for major construction projects attracts highly skilled workers. However, it is essential that the cruise ships don’t in reality become an expensive prison.” He added: “It is essential that those concerned in the project enter into negotiations with Unite, to provide guarantees on not just the price of accommodation but the cost and quality of the food provided, as workers will have no access to their own cooking facilities. Workers are human beings and in order to protect their mental wellbeing it is essential that they are able to freely leave the ship and visit the local community.” The Unite officer concluded: “If these concerns are not addressed then the most skilled workers will vote with their feet, they will either look for work elsewhere, or become demotivated which will greatly damage productivity, creating delays.” 

The other concern, of course, is if there is still COVID-19 around, then cruise ships were identified very early on as being environments where infection could easily be spread by those living in close proximity to each other.  Unite news release. BBC News Online. Source: Risks 987   

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