Union News

Coronavirus (COVID-19) -  update 

The Delta variant of COVID-19 has been extremely challenging to governments trying to 'get ahead' of the community infections.

On Thursday last week the Victorian government declared a snap full lockdown from midnight - initially for five days to midnight Tuesday July 20th. While the numbers have been kept low, yesterday the Premier announced that was too soon to come out of the lockdown, and that it would be extended a further seven days, to midnight Tuesday July 27th.

The number of exposure sites is now over 360, with people identified as contacts being required to take action depending on what tier site it is.  The government’s great concern is that it appears there has been outdoor transmission - something which did not occur during the second outbreak last year.  Chief Health Officer, Professor Brett Sutton said on Monday, “The Delta variant shows that transmission within stadiums occur.  We think there’s been outdoor transmission probably at the MCG and AAMI. We don’t know if it’s at seating, we have individuals not seated together. There’s no evidence they have attended a food chew together. We think it is a pinch-point going into the stadium out doors.” 

The current number of active cases in Victoria is 118 - with cases now in regional Victoria, such as in Mildura and Philip Island. The number of new infections announced today was 22 - more than in the previous days, but the good news is that all were linked to known outbreaks and 16 were isolating during their infectious period.. 

Under our current Victorian lockdown, we have gone back to there being only five reasons to leave home:

Masks must be worn indoors and outdoors, and we must remain within five kilometres of our homes when going out to exercise or to shop. Go to these pages for updated information on the current numbers and restrictions; and to check exposure sites: Victorian government page and our page Coronavirus the Victorian situation

NSW: Greater Sydney is now in its fourth week of lockdown. Unfortunately there have been a further three COVID-related deaths in the past week.  The latest was a woman in her fifties, found dead in her home in Green Valley. Emergency Services had responded to reports of a concern for her welfare. This fatality brings to five the deaths related to the current outbreak. 

There were 110 new infections in the state announced today - 60 of which were active in the community for either part or all of their infectious period. This is not good news. The numbers of cases circulating led NSW's Premier, Gladys Berejiklian, to tighten the lockdown this week.  The virus has now spread outside Greater Sydney and some areas in regional NSW, such as Orange have been put in lockdown. 

Australia has had a total of 32,266 cases of coronavirus diagnosed, and 915 deaths.

Internationally, the cumulative number of infections is now 192,260,989 (last week it was 188,616,093). This is almost 3.65 million new infections in the past week - the upward trend has continued again with an increase of 14 per cent.  The total number of COVID-related deaths around the world is now 4,133,799 - the trend is up by 1 per cent. (Note these figures are updated constantly - check the Worldometer website)

Vaccinations update 

We have reached 11.3 per cent of Australia’s population fully vaccinated against COVID-19 (28.77 per cent have received one dose). This is only a slight increase since last week. We are still ranked 38/38 for OECD countries. For those who have not yet had a look, check out the Vaccine rollout tracker in The Guardian, which has information on dose numbers, comparisons between Australia and the world, how we're tracking against the original and revised goals and much more.

The good news is that 1 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine arrived in Australia this week and it is expected that a million more will come each of the next few weeks.  

Finally, a great new ad was released this week from Victoria’s Arts Community and organised by the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra. The ad strikes a totally different tone from the ‘official’ federal government ads - it’s a ‘feel good’ message, which hopefully will have the required effect: more people getting vaccinated.

Ask Renata  

Hi Renata,  

What OHS is required policy and procedure wise for a cabinet making/joinery business? What is required in terms of first aid available for business with under 10 staff? What signs are required?

All businesses, irrespective of size or industry, must comply with the general duty of care under the Victorian OHS Act - see Duties of Employers

The OHS Act covers everything but is not specific (so for example neither it nor the regulations mandate any particular general signs - except in cases to do with asbestos and asbestos removal, or dangerous goods storage).
In terms of First Aid, this is covered under s21(2)(d) and then the employer must take a look at the Compliance Code for First Aid to find out what they need to do. Take a look at these pages, and the actual code which is linked from the pages: First aid - what are the requirements and First aid kits.
There are also resources from WorkSafe Victoria, the OHS Regulatory body:

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

Workers Compensation questions? Now you can get an expert to respond! 

Subscribers of SafetyNet and those who go to the OHSReps@Work website, will be familiar with our 'Ask Renata' service. 

Often people send in queries which are not strictly OHS, but more on workers compensation issues. Renata tries to provide some information, but often has to go to a Workers' Comp expert for more advice or to verify the answer. Now those with queries in this area can get the expert advice directly from an expert at Union Assist by submitting their inquiry through the VTHC's new service on the Injured Workers Support Network website.  Try it out now, and be confident you'll get up to date advice. 

Unions call on Minister Hunt to urgently act on silica

Unions have met with Health Minister Greg Hunt to urgently address the absence of preventative measures in the National Dust Disease Taskforce’s (NDDT) report - released last week.

The National Dust Diseases Taskforce was established over two years ago to inquire into the causes of occupational dust diseases and make recommendations to provide necessary protections. To date the NDDT has narrowed its focus to just silicosis in the engineered stone industry despite significant outbreaks in quarrying, construction and other industries.

Unions support the NDDT recommendations on data gathering, coordination of information and awareness raising, medical diagnosis and research – however the balance of the recommendations favour these activities at the expense of improved prevention which is the only way to effectively reduce the number of workers suffering from a highly preventable group of diseases. 

Australian unions called on Minister Hunt to adopt the following recommendations:

  1. Immediately adopt a licensing system for work with engineered stone as a transitional measure toward the implementation of a ban,
  2. Immediately draft a regulation that requires persons conducting a business or undertaking (PCBUs/Employers) to identify risks of exposure to respirable crystalline silica and other inorganic dusts and apply strong measures that control hazards at its source,
  3. Classify silicosis and other silica related diseases as deemed diseases for the purpose of workers compensation,
  4. Establish compensation funds to support those suffering from dust diseases such as silicosis and coal workers pneumoconiosis, and their families. These funds should be funded by particular industries,
  5. Invest in product development that could replace engineered stone with a much safer product,
  6. Immediately further reduction in the Workplace Exposure Standard for respirable crystalline silica.

“Exposure to high quantities of silica causes silicosis, lung damage and autoimmune diseases like scleroderma.” said ACTU Assistant Secretary Liam O’Brien. “1 in 5 engineered stone workers is expected to develop silicosis, which is incurable and can even leave workers needing a lung transplant. The Government must move to immediately ban these dangerous products before more workers are diagnosed with this incurable disease.” Read more: ACTU media release

Asbestos news

UK: Deaths from key asbestos cancer remain over 2,000  
The asbestos related cancer mesothelioma is stilling killing over 2,000 people in the UK each year, latest official figures show. New statistics from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) show 2,369 people died from mesothelioma in Great Britain in 2019. This is seven per cent lower than the average of 2,540 deaths over the previous seven years. After a sustained rise over many years, this year’s total marks the second successive year when mesothelioma deaths have fallen.

HSE said current mesothelioma deaths largely reflect occupational asbestos exposures that occurred before the 1980s. It added the figure for 2019 – the latest year for which mesothelioma death figures are available - is consistent with projections that a reduction in total annual deaths would start to become apparent at this point. However, it said it is still not certain how quickly annual deaths will decline. HSE has made repeated predictions of an imminent peak in mesothelioma deaths which have subsequently turned out to be mistaken. Mesothelioma is one of several cancers linked to asbestos exposures. Studies show there is at least one and possible up to three asbestos-related lung cancer cases for every mesothelioma. Commenting on the figures, UNISON head of safety Kim Sunley said: “Asbestos remains a problem in some workplaces including many schools. Funding has to be found to make sure it’s safely removed once and for all.” Read more: Mesothelioma: Mesothelioma statistics for Great Britain, 2021, HSE, 7 July 2021 [pdf]. UNISON news release. Source: Risks 1005

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

International news

UK: HSE ‘buries bad news on work deaths’  

On the day everyone was focused on the England football team’sin the Euro semi-final, the UK's Health and Safety Executive (HSE) took the opportunity to “bury bad news on work deaths,” a workers’ safety campaign has alleged.

The national Hazards Campaign said latest figures released by the safety regulator on 7 July show a ‘massive’ 25 per cent increase in reports of workplace fatalities in 2020/21, despite many workers during the reporting year being furloughed or working from home. Chair of the Hazards Campaign, Janet Newsham, said the increase from 113 reported fatalities at work in 2019/20 to 142 in 2020/21 “is because HSE isn’t carrying out sufficient preventive inspections, isn’t holding bad employers to account, and hasn’t sufficient resources to carry out the enforcement needed to protect workers and prevent these incidents.” Saying the country needs a “robust, transparent, accountable and proactive HSE”, she warned the regulator had instead outsourced most inspections and tried “to paint a rosy picture of health at work, we know only too well the terror many workers face in the workplace, with employers ignoring health and safety and placing many young and vulnerable workers at risk. The pandemic has highlighted the risks many employers are willing to take with workers’ lives.” She concluded: “We need an HSE enforcing health and safety law, not cosying up to employers or government. The Hazards Campaign want the HSE to be independent from pressure from government and big business.”

The high number of work-related deaths from COVID-19 are not included in the HSE fatality figures. HSE figures show there were 383 work-related COVID-19 deaths in 2020/21 reported by employers under the RIDDOR injury and disease reporting regulations. Read more: Hazards Campaign Source: Risks 1005

Bangladesh: Factory boss charged with murder after deadly fire

A factory owner in Bangladesh has been arrested and charged with murder after 52 people, including children, died in fire that broke out on 8 July (SafetyNet 584). Abul Hashem, the owner of Hashem Foods, and four of his sons were among eight people detained on 10 July. Police say they all face murder charges. Narayanganj district Police Chief Jayedul Alam said that the entrance had been padlocked at the time of the fire, breaching health and safety and fire regulations. “It was a deliberate murder,” he said.

A separate probe is under way into the use of child labour at the factory, which is part of the Sajeeb group of companies. Unions report that children as young as 11 had been working at the factory and were among the victims.

Investigators say the fire in Rupganj, an industrial town near the capital Dhaka, took hold because of chemicals and plastics stored inside the building. The six-storey factory manufactured fruit juices, noodles and sweet confectionery. While many workers had left for the day when the fire started, it is believed that hundreds of people were still inside overnight. Eyewitnesses said many workers were injured after they jumped from the factory's upper floors to escape the blaze.

In the wake of the fire, several food, beverage and agricultural trade unions quickly formed the Sajeeb Group Workers Justice Committee and called on the government to “investigate the violation of workers’ rights, including health and safety rights at the Hashem Foods factory as well all factories operated under Sajeeb Group and to take legal action against the culprits.” The committee also demanded that the injured workers receive all necessary medical treatment and that compensation be provided to the injured and deceased workers’ families. It said the company had been warned by authorities about fire safety risks and child labour violations after an 8 June inspection but did nothing. The unions said there had been no follow up action by the Department of Inspection for Factories and Establishments (DIFE).

Read more: IUF-AP statements on the fire, inaction by the company prior to the fire, call for justice and child victims. BBC News Online and related story. Source: Risks 1005

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