Union News

Worker killed on construction site

On Monday this week a worker was killed on a construction site in St Albans, in Melbourne's western suburbs. While WorkSafe is investigating, it s believed the 40-year-old was working alone operating a concrete pump and boom when the overhead boom collapsed and struck him. 

The VTHC expresses its deepest condolences to the worker's family, friends and work colleagues. No one should die at work.

The death brings the workplace fatality toll to 16 for 2021.

Coronavirus (COVID-19) -  update 

Australia has had a total of 29,983 cases of coronavirus diagnosed, and a total of 910 COVID-related deaths. Sadly, an Australian man has died of COVID in India.  The family of the Sydney businessman who died in hospital in India after contracting COVID-19 says he was desperately trying to get back to Australia in the weeks leading up to his death. Govind Kant, 47, had flown to India in early April for the funeral of his mother, who died from the virus in March. 
Read more: Sydney Morning Herald 

Internationally, the numbers of infections and deaths continue to mount: the cumulative number of infections last week was 160,316,996. Today it is 164,878,741. This is 4.5 million new infections in the past week, continuing the downward trend which is now at -14%. There have now been 3,418,020 COVID-related deaths around the world - a downward trend of about 4 per cent. (note these figures are updated constantly)

COVID-19 Vaccinations

As of May 3, any Australian over the age of 50 has been able to book in for their first dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine, and we urge people to do so. There are a number of 'hubs' in Victoria which are delivering the vaccines, including a new one located at the Sandown Racecourse on the Princes Highway in Springvale, which is open 9am - 5pm, seven days a week. GPs are also now administering the vaccines.  At time of press, 816,551 vaccine doses had been administered in Victoria. 

Reminder: The Department of Health's Victorian COVID-19 vaccination guidelines (the guidelines), appendices and resources available online on this DHS webpage. The guidelines provide advice and describe the minimum requirements for delivery of the COVID-19 vaccination program in Victoria, in accordance with the requirements set out by the Commonwealth Government. The guidelines are updated weekly. Please ensure you are using the most up to date version. Updates are highlighted in yellow in the document.

For more information, go to these pages on the website: Coronavirus disease and Coronavirus the Victorian situation 

Ask Renata  

Hello Renata,  

I'm an elected HSR at my workplace, and have a question for you.

If the MSDS or SDS for a herbicide states what PPE to wear, can the user of the herbicide take that as just an ideal suggestion and continue to wear what they please (still with care) or can WorkSafe enforce fines if you fail to follow the SDS to the letter?

The scenario is that we are using a particular herbicide the SDS of which calls for elbow length PVC gloves, goggles, boots and cotton coveralls. However the users will wear most of these PPE items but opting to just wearing long sleeve shirts and long pants and not wear the SDS specific "coveralls" because either they feel too hot or uncomfortable.

There are a few issues to go through in answering your question.

While by law a manufacturer/supplier must provide an up to date SDS for all hazardous substances, its strict adherence is not law. Rather, it provides advice to employers to ensure that the substance is used as safely as possible.  The OHS/WHS authorities prosecute so very few cases, and usually only after there has been an incident and someone has been injured/hurt.  So it is extremely unlikely that an individual worker would be prosecuted for something like this. Also because it’s not just the individual workers who have a duty here, but also the employer. See below:

So this is what should happen:

  1. First, your employer has a duty to consult with you as the HSR, on what is used at the workplace, controls, and so on (see s35: Duty to Consult)
  2. Secondly, as the HSR you represent your DWG members – and this means taking issues up to the employer.. don’t get sucked in to being the person who ‘polices’ what the employer should be doing – see point 5, below.
  3. You should be asking the employer whether a safer, less toxic chemical/product could be used – something that does not require the full PPE to protect workers against toxic effects. The Act says that where practicable, employers must seek to eliminate hazards and risks at the source. Where is it not practicable to eliminate, then the risk must be minimised so far as is reasonably practicable, according to the hierarchy of control.  Providing PPE is the last control measure (See regulation 163 of the Hazardous Substances chapter of the regs)
  4. If there are no safer alternatives, OR if the alternative, though safer, is still toxic, then:
    1. Ensure there is an up to date SDS with the substance
    2. Discuss with your employer the controls which can be put in place before issuing PPE
    3. If PPE is needed, in addition to other measures, then the employer must ensure that it is the PPE as recommended by the SDS
  5. The employer has a duty to provide such information, instruction, training or supervision to employees of the employer as is necessary to enable those persons to perform their work in a way that is safe and without risks to health. So this means not only providing the workers with training about the substance, how to use it safely, what its effects are if they are exposed, what controls are in places, why it’s necessary to wear the PPE, etc.. but also ensuring that they comply with this and wear the PPE – ie supervise them. (See: s21 Duties of Employers)
  6. The employees also need to understand that they have a duty in the OHS Act – to ‘co-operate with his or her employer with respect to any action taken by the employer to comply with a requirement imposed by or under this Act or regulations’. (see: s25 Duties of Employees)
  7. However, it may be that the PPE is in fact not suitable – if it is very very uncomfortable, or hot, or whatever, then you should raise this with your employer and see if there are alternatives (especially as per point 1 – something safer that would mean no or different PPE)
  8. Finally, under employment law, employees must follow any legal instructions from their employer.

So… IF the employer has trained the workers, and provided information on the chemicals and use of PPE, every effort has been made to reduce the need for PPE, and also find the best PPE in terms of suitability, comfort, etc, and there are workers who refuse to wear it, then the employer has the right to take action – such as warn the employees, formal warnings, and so on.

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

Andrews government announces reforms to address workplace psychological hazards and injuries

Last week the VTHC launched a petition calling on our government to introduce regulations on psychological health, as more Victorian workers than ever before are suffering psychological injury from mentally unsafe workplaces. 

This week the government has committed to keep strengthening workers' right to a safe place of employment through new regulations to better prevent workplace psychological hazards and injuries. On Monday Minister for Workplace Safety Ingrid Stitt announced the priority reforms today ahead of her meeting with state, territory and federal counterparts at the Work Health and Safety Ministers’ meeting later this week.

The regulations will strengthen the occupational health and safety framework by providing clearer guidance to employers on their obligations to better protect workers from mental injury.  

"The impact of a mental health injury can often be less obvious – but is no less serious – than a physical one. That’s why we’re making these changes to protect workers and ensure they are safe when on the job,” said Minister Stitt. “We’re making it clear to every employer that the responsibility to provide a safe and healthy workplace means one that is free from psychological and physical harm.”  Read more: Keeping Workers Safe From Psychological Harm, Victorian government media release

We expect that there will be significant push back from employer groups, so it is important to show your support by signing our petition to help us reform OHS laws and win mentally safer workplaces for all workers.

Asbestos news

WA: New guidance on asbestos contaminated soil

WA’s Department of Mines, Industry Regulation and Safety (DMIRS) recently released an information sheet explaining how to deal with soils at a workplace which are contaminated with asbestos-containing material (ACM). The information sheet provides advice to persons in control of a workplace and those involved in inspecting, removing, managing or disposing of asbestos contaminated soils at those workplaces. It deals with soils which are contaminated with asbestos containing material (ACM), but does not cover naturally occurring asbestos. Access the information sheet here

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

VTHC's Women Onsite: Try a Trade Day, May 23

Women Onsite have partnered with Maker Community Inc. to deliver a ‘Try a Trade’ afternoon to provide aspiring tradeswomen with practical experience across three types of trades. Workshops for the day include:

🗜️Plumbing – Joining, bending and brazing copper tubes that are used in plumbing systems
🔨 Carpentry – We’ll be sighting pieces of timber and using a nailgun to get an understanding of what being a carpenter on big jobs is like
👩‍🏭 Welding – a chance to weld steel plate with an experienced female welder.

Participants will also have the opportunity to chat to the team about the Women Onsite program, next steps and opportunities.

WHEN: Sunday 23rd May 2021, 11am -2:30pm 
WHERE: Maker Community Inc. 215 Albion St, Brunswick 
COST: FREE. Spots are limited! Register now for this FREE program.

Job vacancy in the VTHC's OHS Unit

The OHS team is looking for a Project Organiser to join the Carlton-based team – responsible for the WorkWell project (short-term position until July 2022). 

The role will be responsible for delivery of the WorkWell project, aimed at increasing mental health safety for workers, run in conjunction with ACTU and affiliated unions. The WorkWell Project Organiser will provide outreach and support to unions, mental health advocates and OHS delegates in over 100 workplaces as they learn how to identify and manage psychosocial hazards.

The job is being advertised on Ethical Jobs here, please check it out for more details.  Applications close 5.00 pm, 24th May 2021

Share Tweet


WorkSafe have released guidance for employers on how to inspect, vent and safely unpack fumigated shipping containers.
Read More
A statewide meeting of ANMF Vic Branch members recently endorsed a 4-year Enterprise Agreement offer from the Allan State Government. A formal ballot of all public sector nurses and midwives is expected...
Read More
Watertank Solutions Victoria, which undertakes installation, repair, and servicing works in the Ballarat and Western Region, was hired to repair and replace the roof of a water tank in Yendon. The concrete...
Read More