Union News

OHS Live Show - Workplace bullying

If you're reading this on Wednesday September 15, then you have the opportunity of joining Bridget from Trades Hall and Dr Carlo Caponecchia tonight live at 7pm on the We Are Union: OHS Reps Facebook page for a discussion on workplace bullying and how HSRs can use their powers to address it. If you're seeing this on Thursday, then you can catch the show anytime on the Facebook page. 

Dr Caponecchia is a senior lecturer and researcher at UNSW with expertise in safety and human factors, particularly psychosocial hazards at work.  He is also the current president of the International Association on Workplace Bullying and Harassment. As always, we'll be taking questions LIVE so mark your calendars and bring your questions.

When: Wednesday September 15, 7pm sharp  
Where: We Are Union: OHS Reps FB page 
Duration: one hour

Coronavirus Update

Victoria: We are still battling high numbers of infections in Victoria, and until we get both the reproductive value down from the current 1.7 and increase the percentage of vaccinated people, numbers could keep increasing. However, in some good news, Premier Daniel Andrews has announced that a roadmap will be unveiled on Sunday, detailing a plan to ease restrictions over the next few months.

The number of new infections reported on Wednesday September 15 was 423.  The number of active cases: 4038 - more than double this time last week.

Of the active cases, 158 are in hospital, 45 in ICU - 23 on ventilators.  Of those in ICU, again none had been vaccinated! For those with any level of 'hesitancy', please note this: it is crucial to get vaccinated as soon as possible. Victoria has done well in its efforts to vaccinate as many Victorians as possible: as of September 14, 41.44 per cent of us are fully vaccinated, and 67.62 per cent partially vaccinated (38.3 per cent and 61.59 per cent last week). There have now been 828 COVID-related deaths in Victoria - five in the past week, including a man in his 20s. 

Once again there are more than 1050 exposure sites had been listed. It is crucial to keep up with these, and comply with the directions (eg to isolate and get tested). Go to this Victorian government page.

In news from around Australia:

  • NSW: the state has continued to have the highest numbers of new community infections since coronavirus first arrived in Australia, although it appears the curve may be 'flattening', probably due to the higher levels of vaccinations. Over the past week, the numbers have continued to be over 1000 daily. There were 1,259 new community infections in the state in the 24 hours before Wednesday morning, and unfortunately twelve deaths.   There have been a total of 198 deaths since the beginning of this outbreak - sixty in the past week. There are 1,241 COVID-19 cases admitted to hospital, with 234 people in intensive care, 108 of whom require ventilation. In good news, the state has hit the 80 per cent mark for first vaccinations.
  • ACT: On Tuesday there were 22 new cases recorded, leading the chief minister to announce that the lockdown would be extended for a further month, until at October 17.  

As at September 15, Australia has had a total of 76,292 cases of coronavirus diagnosed (66,317 last week). There have been 1102 COVID-19 related deaths. 

Worldwide: as at September 15, there had been 226,618,955 infections (last week it was 222,737,866). The total number of COVID-related deaths around the world is now 4,661,584. (Note these figures are updated constantly - check the Worldometer website for latest figures and trends). Read more information on Coronavirus   

Vaccinations update

According to the ABC Vaccine tracker as of September 14, 42.4 per cent of Australians have been fully vaccinated (68.48 per cent have received one dose). This is a great improvement - we are slowly creeping up the OECD ranking and according to The Guardian, we are now at 33/38, so there is still a long way to go. 

News in the past week:

  • the government has secured more Pfizer vaccines in deals involving getting almost out of date supplies from a number of countries and then paying them back
  • the TGA has approved a third vaccine: Moderna, which is an mRNA vaccine, as is Pfizer. 

It is increasingly important that everyone who is eligible be vaccinated as soon as possible. If HSRs are interested in working with their employer to organise vaccinations for a group of workers, the government has set up a system to register interest - click here.

Also on the rise are employers and companies who are announcing that they are considering/have decided to make vaccinations for their employees mandatory: this week in Victoria alone it was Crown, St Vincent's Health Australia (the largest not-for-profit health and aged care provider in the country) and Racing Victoria (ABC news). With one in eight cases of community infections in Victoria linked to construction, the state government is considering making vaccinations mandatory on construction sites, a move not supported by the CFMEU (The Age)

Meanwhile, the ACTU has launched a national ad campaign to encourage Australians to get vaccinated. The move supports essential workers and those who have lost their jobs because of the pandemic. The short ‘It’s time to get vaccinated’ advert will run on TV, YouTube and social media. ACTU secretary Sally McManus said, “The union movement is encouraging all eligible Australians to get vaccinated to support the working people of our country: essential workers who expose themselves every day to keep the country running, hospital workers who face being overwhelmed with unvaccinated people and workers who have lost their jobs because of lockdowns.”

She added: “We need our workplaces and communities to be as safe as possible and high rates of vaccination is the only way to achieve this. High vaccination rates are also the only way to avoid the crippling lockdowns which have cost working people big time… Vaccination is how we support each other and build a community with a strong shield that will keep us all safe. How strong our shield is depends on all of us making the choice to get vaccinated. We are calling on everyone to do their part so we can protect each other.” Read more: ACTU news release and It’s time to get vaccinated broadcast/online advert.

Check out the VTHC's guide to help you navigate challenging conversations about vaccines and help address some of your workmates' concerns. It's free! Get your copy of Talkin' 'bout My Vaccination  

Ask Renata  

Hello VTHC OHS Unit,

Several of my colleagues are concerned about the safety of the COVID vaccines. I have pulled up the Pfizser Safety Data Sheet but seems all relevant information is not listed or there is no data available. Would this be the completed SDS with so much information not available? Shouldn’t a full SDS be provided to the workplace? Would you please advise if this is correct or which would be the best platform to find all current and relevant information pertaining to this and other COVID vaccines.

The Pfizer vaccines Safety Data Sheet (SDS is the new term for MSDS), is available as a pdf here

But note that SDSs must be written and supplied for hazardous chemicals provided and used in workplaces under the WHS/OHS legislation. That is, the SDS is required provided to workers who use a substance in the workplace and so the advice is about storage and handling, PPE and so on.

Nevertheless, even though vaccines are not registered as 'hazardous substances' and are not covered by the OHS legislation - an SDS would be useful information for health workers, etc who use the vaccine.

The approval process for vaccines to be used in Australia is through the Therapeutic Drugs Administration (TGA). Each of the vaccines in our current program (the AstraZeneca, the Pfizer and the Moderna) vaccine was approved by the TGA after the organisation evaluated all the clinical trial data and information provided by the company.  These vaccines have been approved by many other countries and have been used in vaccination programs for many months. Each vaccine has been deemed safe to use by doctors and health professionals both in Australia and worldwide. More information on the safety of the vaccines can be found here. You can also check the information on the COVID vaccines on this section of the TGA website. The TGA provides information on the approval process, the safety monitoring and the outcomes, and more.  

For example, the Pfizer vaccine was tested widely before being used and research from the Department of Health shows that people with both doses of Pfizer were 95 per cent less likely to get symptomatic COVID-19. More information on this research can be found in this fact sheet [pdf].

The federal government then takes the advice of the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI) in terms of who should get the vaccine (eg age groups) after the TGA approves its use.

It is a stressful and unprecedented time for everyone, and it is understandable if your coworkers are concerned about the vaccines and their effects. Trades Hall has prepared a free guide about getting the vaccine that may assist in having those chats with coworkers who may be hesitant or curious about the vaccine. You can download it free here. 

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

Asbestos news

National: Asbestos Awareness Week

Every year in Australia, an estimated 4,000 people die from asbestos-related disease because of past exposure. This includes the incurable cancer mesothelioma. Across Australia, asbestos is in 1 in 3 homes.

One of the initiatives to prevent exposure to asbestos fibres and eliminate asbestos-related disease, National Asbestos Awareness Week is held every year in the last week of November, this year, November 22–28 with the theme “Think Twice About Asbestos.”

ASEA has produced a 'stakeholder campaign pack' and the VTHC is planning a number of activities, including a live show and more. 

International: WHO confirms concerns at asbestos lobbying push and its support for stopping asbestos use

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has expressed concern at “misinformation” used to lobby governments regarding the health risks of chrysotile asbestos, which WHO confirms is a known potent cause of cancer. The WHO clarification came in the wake of pro-asbestos comments by a Russian foreign minister, in an article also claiming erroneously: “The controlled use of chrysotile is approved by the World Health Organization and the International Labor Organization…”

WHO has now confirmed its unchanged position, namely “the most efficient way to eliminate asbestos-related diseases is to the stop the use of all types of asbestos.”

The World Health Organization’s policy is set out in this document and remains unchanged: 

  • Chrysotile asbestos causes cancer in humans, specifically, it causes mesothelioma and cancer of the lung, larynx and ovary.  The scientific evidence that it causes cancer is conclusive and overwhelming.
  • No threshold for adverse effects has been identified, and therefore it is not possible to establish safe levels of exposure.  Chrysotile is widely used in building materials and in vehicle parts, where it is not possible to prevent exposure of workers and the general public.
  • Information about chrysotile toxicity may not be well disseminated in developing countries and exposure prevention is difficult. Mesothelioma cases do occur in countries producing and using chrysotile, however in many countries there are not adequate systems in place to detect mesothelioma.
  • Safer alternatives are available, and have been used by the many countries that have stopped the use of chrysotile. 

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

International union news

Canada: Unions want a work deaths prosecutor 

There must be immediate action to protect workers after the collapse of a high-profile criminal trial related to a young worker's death, unions in the Canadian province of British Columbia (BC) have said. The BC Federation of Labour president, Laird Cronk, described the decision last week to stay criminal negligence charges against Peter Kiewit Sons and two former managers as a “profound failure” of the justice system.

“Justice delayed is justice denied, and the unconscionable delays, insufficient resources and organisational breakdowns in investigating Sam Fitzpatrick's death have compounded tragedy upon tragedy,” Cronk said, as the case was stayed just as it was scheduled to commence. “A system that can't effectively investigate and prosecute negligent employers endangers workers across the province.”

The BCFED leader said he wanted to see the provincial government immediately dedicate a prosecutor to deal with workplace injuries and deaths, train police on the law and make police investigations mandatory when a worker is killed or seriously injured. Sam Fitzpatrick was killed in 2009 aged 24 by a falling boulder on a Kiewit worksite. His younger brother was working next to him and saw it happen. Safety regulator WorkSafeBC found that Kiewit had been running the site with a “reckless disregard” for safety. The police opened a criminal investigation in 2014 in response to campaigning by Fitzpatrick's father and the United Steelworkers (USW) union, and charges of criminal negligence causing death were approved five years later. In 2011, WorkSafeBC levied a $250,000 (AUD$269,244) fine against Kiewit for violations of occupational health and safety regulations related to Fitzpatrick's death. The fine was later reduced on appeal to $100,000 (AUD$107,697). Read more: BCFED news releaseUSW news releaseCBC News. Source: Risks 1013

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