Union News

Want to share your experience of COVID Safety in the workplace? 

Now is your chance! The COVID-Safe team at the VTHC OHS Unit is running a short survey on Covid-safety measures in your workplace. By participating in the survey, you’re doing your part to help make Victorian workplaces COVID-Safe, and you’ll be entered into a prize draw. Fill out the survey here

COVIDSafe training sessions coming up

Have you missed out on the VTHC's COVIDSafe training sessions? 

Due to high demand, we have added an additional six COVIDSafe training courses to run over the coming months. The sessions will run on the dates and times below and are capped at 40 participants per course due to their interactive workshop nature. 

These sessions are geared towards Victorian HSRs and are highly popular so we encourage you to RSVP as quick as you can to ensure that you have a space. Register by clicking on the date you'd like to attend. 

VTHC Health and Safety Reps' Conference - Thursday October 28

Announcing Health and Safety Month's biggest and best event - the VTHC's annual HSR Conference. This year the theme is: HSR Super Sleuths: Exercising Your Powers To Uncover Hidden Hazards And Risks.  Unfortunately, due to the ongoing lockdown and the uncertainty of when we will be able to gather in large numbers again, the event will once again be an online event. Register online now! 

Even though we won't be meeting in person, it will be a great opportunity for HSRs to learn lots and after hearing from a few very knowledgeable speakers, actively participate in smaller workshops and hone their skills. We will also be discussing the new HSR powers under the Act. 

The conference has WorkSafe approval as a training course under s69 of the OHS Act, meaning that as long as HSRs give their employer at least 14 days' notice, the employer must release them on paid leave to participate. While the employer has no legal obligation to release deputies on paid leave, ask anyway - you are welcome to attend, and many employers are happy to do so. Register here - from this page you can download the Approval letter from WorkSafe Victoria, and a Notice of attendance letter you can give/email to your employer.

When: Thursday October 28, 8.30am - 2.30pm
Where: Online
Cost: Free!
Open for all Victorian HSRs and Deputy HSRs 
Register here, now! (and then let your employer know!)

Coronavirus Update

Delta was recognised as a SARS-CoV-2 variant of concern in May 2021 and has proved extremely difficult to control in unvaccinated populations. Delta has managed to out-compete other variants, including Alpha. Variants are classified as "of concern" because they're either more contagious than the original, cause more hospitalisations and deaths, or are better at evading vaccines and therapies. Or all of the above.

So how does Delta fare on these measures? And what have we learnt since Delta was first listed as a variant of concern? Read about the latest science in this ABC feature.

Victoria

This week Geelong and the Surf Coast exited lockdown, and Melbournians have enjoyed the four hours outdoor activity/social gatherings with up to five fully vaccinated people from two households, up to 10km from home.

But the number of new infections in the state continues to rise alarmingly, and lockdown has now been implemented in both the Mitchell Shire and the City of Latrobe to try to reduce the spread in these areas. 

Today 950 new cases were reported - once again the highest number of cases since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. The number of active cases is now 9,890! Last week at this time it was 6,223. 

Of the active cases, 375 are in hospital, 81 in ICU - 61 on ventilators.  Our vaccination rates: as of September 28, 48.22 per cent of us are fully vaccinated, and 76.89 per cent partially vaccinated (44.66 per cent and 73.51 per cent last week). There have now been 856 COVID-related deaths in Victoria - another 20 in the past week. 

Remember to check exposure sites, even though DHHS is now not listing them all. This means it's crucial to check in with the QR codes wherever you go, so that if there's an exposure at any place you have visited, you will receive text messages. Go to this Victorian government page to check the sites.

With Victoria's vaccination rate now reaching 80 per cent first dose, Victoria’s Chief Health Officer has announced a modest easing to restrictions in metropolitan Melbourne and regional Victoria, in line with the Roadmap. Residents of metropolitan Melbourne and regional areas in lockdown can undertake ‘contactless’ recreation at outdoor facilities, such as boating, tennis or golf. The 10km radius has been expanded to 15km. The indicative date for schools to reopen remains October 5th. The next larger change in the COVID-19 rules will occur when 70 per cent of the state has been double vaccinated, which is expected in late October. Read more: Victorian government media release 

In news from around Australia:

  • NSW:  The cases in the state are generally coming down - in fact Victoria's numbers over the past two days have been higher than those in NSW. Today 863 cases were reported, with 15 deaths. There have now been a total of 331 deaths since the beginning of this outbreak - 71 in the past week. There are 1,082 COVID-19 cases admitted to hospital, with 212 people in intensive care, 108 of whom require ventilation - these numbers are also coming down. 
  • ACT: today 22 new cases were reported. There are 10 people in hospital with the virus, with three in ICU requiring ventilation.  

As at September 29, Australia has had a total of 100,919 cases of coronavirus diagnosed (90,391 last week). There have been 1,256 COVID-19 related deaths - 70 more than last week. 

Worldwide: as at September 29, there had been 233,513,553 infections (230,313,402 last week) and 4,777,743 COVID-related deaths. (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 29, 49.13 per cent of Victorians have been fully vaccinated (79.43 per cent have received one dose). Australia wide, the figures are 53.42 per cent and 77.28 per cent respectively. Supplies of the third vaccine approved, Moderna, should be in pharmacies soon. 

Melbourne demonstrations - update

Unfortunately, small numbers of anti-lockdown, anti-vaccination and some COVID deniers have continued to demonstrate in Melbourne, but the protests are 'fizzling out' as the week progresses. Yesterday Victorian police handed out 16 fines after intercepting eight trucks believed part in a protest linked to recent anti-lockdown action. 

The trucks, which were deliberately travelling at low speed to cause traffic disruption, were pulled over on the Tullamarine Freeway near Moreland Road around Brunswick West. Each vehicle contained a driver and a passenger, all of whom have been fined for breaching COVID restrictions. (ABC news online)

Also this week, police arrested an alleged organiser behind one of Melbourne’s largest protests and charged him with inciting others to breach public health directions.  Using an encrypted messaging platform, 25 year old Harrison Mclean wrote he was arrested at home and later released after an interview with police. He said “incitement charges have been laid against me” in relation to the protest in Melbourne on September 18, and asked supporters to help pay for his legal defence. 

Mclean is clearly not a construction worker and describes himself on his website as having “helped launch the World Wide Rally for Freedom in Melbourne and around Australia to push back against the encroachments on Victorian Freedom”. (The Age)

Breaking news: 

The Melbourne office of the CFMMEU's construction and general division's Victorian branch has today been declared a tier one COVID-19 exposure site, following the violent street protests last week that damaged the outside of the building.

Branch secretary John Setka blamed the "reckless and irresponsible" behaviour of protesters for the headquarters' declaration as a tier-one exposure site. Four union officials/workers have tested positive, with hundreds forced into 14 days' isolation. In a statement, Mr Setka said: “This outbreak caused by the disgusting behaviour of selfish and reckless people with no regard to the wellbeing of the thousands of construction workers or their families will not deter our commitment to getting construction back open and all our members back to work.” Read more: The AgeABC news online

Ask Renata  

Hello Renata,

Our site was declared a tier one site earlier this month. All the required cleaning has taken place; everyone has completed the required 14 days isolation, and DHHS has cleared that site. Does my employer need to amend the COVIDSafe plan to help the site getting a case again?

You will be aware that under ‘The Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004’ (OHS Act), where a risk to health is identified at a workplace, employers must eliminate the risk as far as is reasonably practicable and when elimination is not possible, reduce the risk as far as reasonably practicable. Following a coronavirus (COVID-19) case at a workplace, risk management controls and infection prevention measures should be reviewed in order to reduce the risk of further coronavirus (COVID-19) exposures.

When the Department of Health clears the site and determine that it’s safe to reopen, employers are advised to review their COVIDSafe plan and ensure that appropriate measures are in place to minimise the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19). 

Employers need to ensure: 

  • the workplace is cleaned regularly and thoroughly 
  • that staff are required to practice physical distancing 
  • the layout of the workplace promotes physical distancing where possible 
  • Fitted facemasks and PPE are worn properly - these should be provided by the employer 
  • staff are required to practice good hand hygiene (and that hand washing facilities are well stocked and in good functioning order) 
  • staff are required to stay home when unwell (check with your union for various provisions for payment of wages)
  • visitors to the workplace who are not staff and not essential to its functioning are limited
  • using of QR code and keeping clear records of employees and visitors to the site

Creating work bubbles and limiting the number of people on site at a workplace is an important control to minimise the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19) and employers should look to implement them. Employers should consider keeping groups of workers rostered on the same shifts at a single worksite and avoid any overlap of workers during shift changes where it is practical to do so. These actions should be considered when creating work bubbles:

  • Adjusting rosters and develop procedures to ensure workers do not work across multiple sites 
  • Staggering start and finish times, shifts and break times, to reduce use of common areas at the same time 
  • Encouraging workers to minimise time in shared facilities when taking breaks 
  • Ensuring groups of workers do not mix across different shifts.

As the deputy HSR, I recommend you take this issue up with your HSR (and any other HSRs and DHSRs at the workplace) to discuss. Then you and the HSR/s need to ​raise with your employer the issue of revising the COVIDSafe plan and work bubble idea directly with the employer for consideration if it is practical to do so. Follow the processes as set out in s73 of the Act: Resolution of health and safety issues.

Remember that under s35 of the Act, your employer has a duty to consult with the HSRs/DHSRs, including when amending the COVIDSafe Plan, or implementing changes to the systems of work.  If you have any issues, then contact your union and let your organiser know what the issues are.

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, in the last week of November, activities are held to promote the awareness of asbestos - which is endemic in our built environment.  This year the VTHC will be running a number of events, including a Live Show. Keep your eyes on SafetyNet over the next few editions to find out more.

The Asbestos Safety and Eradication Agency (ASEA) has developed a campaign pack with materials, posters and information for the week - check it out here

ASEA: Updated asbestos materials

As a part of ASEA's ongoing project to update our asbestos safety and awareness brochures, the agency has refreshed two additional brochures – one for fire protection trades, and a second one for the automotive industry and historic car enthusiasts.

This update modernises the brochures and provides information about where asbestos is commonly found, and the laws and regulations surrounding asbestos management and removal. It also provides guidance and safety tips to help individuals protect themselves and others from exposure to harmful asbestos fibres. Access the brochures here.

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

International union news

Bangladesh: More fatalities in the shipbreaking yards  
In just a week, two more workers were killed and three were injured due to the deplorable lack of safety in Chittagong’s shipbreaking yards. IndustriALL affiliates BMF and BMCGTWF have repeatedly brought up the issue of health and safety with both Bangladesh’s government and the ship owners, but to no avail.

The safety crisis at Bangladesh’s shipbreaking yards continues. The fatal incidents that took place during a week in September show the terrifying results of not addressing dangerous working conditions. According to an IndustriALL survey, at least ten shipbreaking workers have been killed and 23 others injured in Bangladesh’s shipbreaking yards since January 2021. Most of the victims were young, precarious workers without proper safety equipment. Read more: IndustriALL media release

UK: Routine violence against transport staff exposed
Almost 60 per cent of UK’s rail, bus and ferry workers have been subjected to verbal or physical attack since the start of the pandemic, according to research by the union RMT. The union’s survey of more than 5,000 transport workers showed that most believed that workplace violence has worsened during the pandemic and 73 per cent said they believed the government’s lifting of COVID restrictions and mixed messaging around safety measures had further aggravated the situation.

More than half the respondents reported being threatened with physical violence while 1-in-10 had been physically assaulted. 88 per cent had been verbally abused, 16 per cent had been spat at or targeted with bodily fluids, 13 per cent had been racially harassed and 6 per cent sexually assaulted. Two-thirds of those reporting attacks said they had been working alone at the time of the incident. The union fully supports a bill tabled by Labour MP Olivia Blake which seeks to make verbal or physical abuse of a public-facing worker a specific offence. Read more: RMT news release. Source: Risks 1015 

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