Union News

Two fatalities in Victoria

We are saddened to announce that two workers were killed in Victoria in the past week.

A skydiving instructor was killed when a tandem dive went wrong last Friday July 30. Two men crash-landing in a paddock on Victoria’s Great Ocean Road in Torquay just before 1pm. Paramedics were unable to save the 35-year-old skydiving instructor who died at the scene. 

Another man in his 50s was rushed to hospital in a critical condition. Victoria Police said the instructor cushioned the landing for the other man, and asked emergency service workers if he could stand up during the 20 minutes paramedics were treating him. Unfortunately his condition then worsened and he could not be revived.  

Ralph Hamilton-Presgrave, the owner of Australian Skydive, the company that organised the jump, said he was unsure what exactly went wrong, but the parachute malfunctioned, resulting in a heavy landing.  Read more: The Age 

The second fatality occurred at the Melbourne Market in Epping, the city's wholesale fruit and vegetable market. According to the Melbourne Market Authority the 23-year-old man was killed in the incident, which happened at 5:30am Monday morning. He was driving an electric vehicle which struck a stationary truck. 

Victoria Police and Worksafe are investigating.

The VTHC extends our deepest condolences to the family, friends and colleagues of the two workers. 

Remember the dead, fight like hell for the living.  

Coronavirus (COVID-19) -  update 

After a week of relaxed restrictions, the number of new infections in Victoria remains low: on Tuesday this week there were four community infections (plus one from overseas) all of which were in isolation for their entire infectious period. On Wednesday, there were none at all.  

While the restrictions will remain in place until at least next Tuesday, the advice is still to work from home if we are able to, up to 25 per cent (or 10 workers, whichever is greater) are able to return to the workplace if necessary.

Wearing masks both indoors and outdoors (unless working alone) and checking in with QR codes remain mandatory. 

The current number of active cases in Victoria is 99. 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 sixth week of lockdown. There were 233 new infections in the state in the 24 hours before Wednesday morning. Of these, at least 68 were in the community while infectious for part or all of their infectious period. While there has not been an 'exponential' growth in cases, it is very concerning that the state still has a large number of cases in the community while infectious. Unfortunately there have been more COVID-related deaths in the past week, including the death of a young man in his 20s. He was not vaccinated. There have now been 17 deaths related to the current outbreak. 

Queensland: the state recorded 16 new local COVID-19 cases on Tuesday. The 16 cases are all linked to the Indooroopilly cluster, Deputy Premier Steven Miles said. These cases bring the total number of local cases in the current outbreak to 63.

As at August 4, Australia has had a total of 35,086 cases of coronavirus diagnosed, and 927 deaths.

On August 4, 2021 the world hit a new milestone: over 200 million cases of the coronavirus. There had been 200,235,188 worldwide infections (last week it was 195,980,203). This is over 4 million new infections in the past week. The total number of COVID-related deaths around the world is now 4,258,450 - alarmingly the upward trend in both has reached over 12 per cent. (Note these figures are updated constantly - check the Worldometer website for latest figures and trends)

Vaccinations update 

15.7 per cent of Australians are now vaccinated (17.7 per cent have received one dose). The arguments about how it went wrong and how to fix it continue, but we are still well behind our current target. We are now ranked 36/38 for OECD countries - still appalling.

This week the NSW premier has set a target of 6 million vaccinations for people living in NSW, and the Prime Minister released the government plan and targets of percentage of the Australian population which will have to be vaccinated before we can open up.  Prime Minister Morrison outlined a phased plan: we are currently in phase A. Lockdowns will be “less likely” under phase B which will be triggered when 70 per cent of the adult population has been vaccinated against COVID. That could happen by the end of 2021. However, to be able to travel overseas, 80 per cent will need to be vaccinated. Read more: 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. Australians will be able to freely travel when 80% of population is vaccinated, Morrison says. The Guardian 

Ask Renata  

Hi Renata,  

Is it the law to do a pre start up check for forklifts?

I don't think this is mandated anywhere in the regulations, and it's certainly not in the OHS Act. However, an old publication of WorkSafe's (which they have now archived - go figure! It was a very useful document, and we may ask for it to be updated and restored), had the following on p11:

"Completing the safety checklist should be part of every forklift operator’s daily routine.

Before starting a shift all operators should check their forklift is in safe working order, ready to be used and capable of completing the tasks required of it.

If any damage or problems with a forklift are noticed, they should immediately be reported to a supervisor.

Conducting regular safety checks is also part of an effective forklift maintenance regime."

The document, Forklift Safety, also provides an example checklist to use. Note that the advice makes it clear that regular safety checks are 'part of an effective maintenance regime'. The employer has a general duty of care to ensure to ensure that plant is safe and without risks to health, is regularly maintained, and that there are safe procedures in place.

I believe it is common practice to have operators undertake a pre-start check... If this does not happen, then there may not be an effective maintenance regime in place, and what is the employer doing to ensure that the forklifts at the workplace are safe? Read more:  Forklift Safety.

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

VTHC educator critical of Safe Work materials on sexual harassment

Workplace sexual harassment occurs within a context of gendered violence, rather than being a standalone issue. It is an OHS issue and therefore employers have a duty to address the hazard, which is the behaviour that has occurred rather than the individual identified as the source of the hazard. Gendered violence, including sexual harassment, causes injury and must be addressed as a priority in workplaces in order to eradicate or mitigate the effects it has on workers. If we don’t understand that sexual harassment occurs within a cultural and social environment that supports gendered violence, and which impacts the workplace, then we will only ever address individual behaviours rather than systemic ones that allow for the actions, behaviours, systems and structures to occur and injure workers in the first place.  

Unfortunately, Safe Work Australia’s recently developed infographics and resources about sexual harassment and employer WHS duties in relation to it, fall short of understanding the need to see sexual harassment within this broader framework.  

Encouraging respectful relationships at work, alongside stamping out offensive behaviours early is only one part of the solution to the eradication of gendered violence in the workplace. Workplaces must also ensure that women, LGBTIQ workers and those who do not conform to society’s expectations of gender are protected. There are myriad ways this can be done, some examples being ensuring parents and carers are able to fully participate in workplaces, ensuring there are appropriate facilities such as toilets for everyone, as well as ensuring that systems of work are safe and don’t force people to work alone or in environments in which they are made to be vulnerable. 

VTHC Migrant Workers Centre Survey

Have you ever stayed on a visa in Australia? How has your visa impacted your life?

There are many problems with Australia’s migration system. Too often, workers, students, partners and family members are forced to go from visa to visa with limited work rights or healthcare, and very few pathways to permanent residence.

There is now an opportunity to change this: the Australian Government is currently reviewing Australia's migration programs and the Migrant Workers Centre is campaigning for more pathways to permanent residency and a fairer visa system.

The Centre has launched a research survey about the experiences and barriers faced by migrants in Australia. It is collecting responses from anyone who has ever stayed on a visa in Australia. The MWC wants to know how your visa impacts your work, housing and social life, and what challenges you face when applying for visas.

Responses will inform the MWC policy recommendations and most importantly, help drive its campaign for pathways to permanency. Responses will be confidential. Take the survey now 

Asbestos news

QLD: man sues ex-employer for $1.7m  
A former plant operator has filed a $1.7m lawsuit in the Supreme Court against a past employer after claiming he developed asbestosis and related illnesses from his work more than 40 years ago.

The Collinsville man worked for Amaca Pty Ltd – formerly James Hardie and Coy Pty Ltd – at the Newstead and Wacol factories between 1973 and 1979 where he alleged he was exposed to asbestos dust and fibre.

The 72 year-old man say he operated various plant, machinery and systems involved in the manufacture of asbestos cement building products, and that he had to “handle, remove and otherwise work with raw asbestos fibre, asbestos cement products and debris of asbestos cement products” in factories that were “contaminated with asbestos dust and fibre”.

The man has accused his former employer of failing to provide or require workers to wear protective gear. He also said workers were not warned about the need to take precautions to minimise any exposure to asbestos dust and fibre, nor that exposure to asbestos could cause serious injury.

While 'over 40 years' sounds like a very long time ago, in fact it was the late 1970's when it was well known that exposure to asbestos could lead to long term and fatal disease. Source: The Townsville Bulletin

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

International news

UK: HSE failed workers on COVID airborne spread

The Hazards Campaign says the UK's Health and Safety Executive (HSE) must address dangerous failings in its advice and ‘mandate’ the provision of high quality respiratory protective equipment for all NHS and social care staff. Commenting ahead of a 27 July socially distanced protest at the HSE’s HQ, the union-backed grassroots campaign slammed HSE’s failure to recommend the more protective FFP3 respirators rather than general purpose surgical masks.

Janet Newsham, the chair of the Hazards Campaign, said: “With the disappearing COVID-19 public protection, workers need to be properly protected and their employers have a legal duty to ensure workers’ health and safety and anyone else affected by their work activity or in their work premises.” She said HSE has “largely failed” its legal duty to require safe working conditions, adding: “By reacting too late, hundreds of thousands of workers have been infected, many left with long-Covid and some have sadly died. As long as employers fail to ensure adequate ventilation and a proper precautionary level of face masks, workers will continue to be exposed to COVID-19 virus.”

She said the safety regulator was well aware of the inadequacy of surgical masks to protect workers from airborne viruses, with a 2008 HSE study concluding: “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.” (Risks 983). 
Read more: Hazards Campaign news release.  Evaluating the protection afforded by surgical masks against influenza bioaerosols: Gross protection of surgical masks compared to filtering facepiece respirators, [pdf] Research Report RR619, 2008. Source: Risks 1007

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