Union News

Victorian worker killed in forklift incident

It is with great sadness that we report that a 25-year-old worker was killed yesterday following an incident with a forklift in Somerton. According to WorkSafe, the forklift was being operated on a sloping driveway when it tipped and crushed the young man who was standing nearby.

WorkSafe is investigating. The death brings the workplace fatality toll to 44 for 2021.

The VTHC sends our sincerest condolences to the worker's family, friends and co-workers. No-one should die at work. Every death is preventable. Source: WorkSafe media release

Register NOW: VTHC Health and Safety Reps' Conference, Thursday October 28

Two weeks to go!! Calling all HSRs and Deputy HSRs: if you haven't yet registered for Health and Safety Month's biggest and best event - the VTHC's annual HSR Conference - please register online now! This year the theme is: HSR Super Sleuths: Exercising Your Powers To Uncover Hidden Hazards And Risks.  Of course, due to the ongoing lockdown, the event will once again be an online event.  

Today is the last day on which HSRs can be guaranteed to get paid leave from their employer to attend. If notice is given after today - HSRs can still attend by mutual consent, or if the employer refuses, then on another type of leave. So it is strongly recommended that all HSRs notify their employer today and register. Note too that if you want a hard copy of the resources posted to you, you will need to register by the end of the week.

The conference 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 look at how to use the new HSR powers under the OHS 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. This means that you've got to do it now, today if you haven't done so already! 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!)

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. We encourage as many of you as possible to fill out the survey here

Do you have a specific question about Covid-Safety in your workplace? Don’t hesitate to get in touch with your union, or submit an inquiry through the Covid-Safe Workplaces website.

Coronavirus Update

Victoria

The number of new infections continues to be over 1000 per day, with the highest ever new infections in one day in Australia on Saturday October 9 at 1,965. It is not a coincidence that these high numbers come about two weeks after the Grand Final weekend, when many Melburnians (and perhaps Victorians generally) broke the rules and had BBQs and gatherings. It is also about a fortnight since the bigger anti-vax, anti-lockdown 'demonstrations' took place.

Since October 9 the numbers have come down a little, then gone up again - but we are hoping that the trend will be downwards. Today's number is 1,572, with unfortunately 13 deaths. The good news regarding the 'de-coupling' of number of infections and numbers in the hospitals/ICU continues - as the percentage of Victorians who have been double vaccinated increases. 

The number of active cases in Victoria is now 19,861 - compared to this time last week, when it was 14,410. There have now been 934 COVID-related deaths in Victoria - another 46 in the past week. Of the active cases, 705 are in hospital, 146 in ICU - 92 on ventilators - a lot of very sick people.  

While it is expected that the government will further ease restrictions in line with the Roadmap once we get to 70 per cent fully vaccinated, we will still need to take precautions, such as wearing masks, checking in with QR codes, getting tested and so on. If you are not yet vaccinated - please arrange this as soon as possible.  

In news from around Australia:

  • NSW:  The cases in the state have continued to decrease steadily (444 today), as expected, due to the high percentage of people now vaccinated. The state is tracking towards 80 per cent fully vaccinated. There are currently 716 COVID-19 cases admitted to hospital, with 150 people in intensive care, 76 of whom require ventilation. However, as the state more or less 'opened up, on Monday this week, it is expected that there will be an increase cases over the next fortnight. 
  • ACT: the territory today recorded 51 new cases. There are 16 in hospital, eight in ICU, five of whom require ventilation. 
  • NT: the government has announced that it will require all 'high risk' workers to have had at least one vaccine dose by next month. The mandate covers anyone working in 'public-facing' roles.

As at October 13, Australia has had a total of 131,415 cases of coronavirus diagnosed (117,826 last week). There have been 1,461 COVID-19 related deaths. 

Worldwide: as at October 13, there had been 239,447,170 infections (236,590,937 last week) and 4,880,758 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 October 12, 60.37 per cent of Victorians over the age of 16  are fully vaccinated, and 86.22 per cent partially vaccinated (53.57 per cent and 82.94 per cent last week). Australia wide, the figures are 63.36 per cent and 82.82 per cent respectively. The third vaccine approved, Moderna, is now available. 

A reminder of the terrific feature in the VTHC's Megaphone journal: Your Top Questions About Vaccines - Answered! It's informative, amusing and will help you in discussions about vaccines with your family, friends and work colleagues. 

Melbourne demonstrations 

This week, The Age published an opinion piece written by VTHC's Secretary, Luke Hilakari, who was inside the CFMEU offices on the day of the biggest riot watching a crowd of hundreds of hi-vis clad men screaming at union leaders. In the piece Mr Hilakari said, "Among the obvious opportunistic anti-vax ring-ins and the well-known far-right provocateurs, I saw people who genuinely were construction workers, even some union members." He acknowledges that, often based on misinformation spread by anti-vaxxers, some workers "fear the vaccine, (are) worried about losing their job and income, and feel alienated from the majority of their workmates." 

The problem of the increasing presence of right-wing, fascist groups needs to be confronted. He notes that the Greens have proposed that an inquiry investigating the rise of the far right in Victoria be established, but says it needs to go further. He proposes "A good first step would be a royal commission into far-right agitation in Australia, with powers to investigate links to foreign influence, social media, commercial interests and media platforming of known far-right agitators."  Read more: We need a royal commission into the organised far-right in Australia, The Age

New and updated resources for HSRs

New Hazard information pages on our website

In the past week we have written two new Hazard information pages on the OHS [email protected] website - both on increasingly important and/or emerging issues.

  1. Ventilation - but specifically in relation to the need for ventilation in workplaces to be adequate to control the spread of infectious diseases generally, and COVID-19 in particular. Experts in the spread of disease now have advice on what sort of ventilation workplaces should have, and how to check that it's doing the job. Measures include ensuring a certain level of fresh air and checking/monitoring CO2 levels. In Victoria for example, the government has been implementing measures to ensure better ventilation in schools. 
  2. Climate Change - as this increases global warming, many current workplace hazards are worsened by climate change. 

Updated COVID information from the ACTU

This week the national union body, the ACTU, has updated its COVID Aware Workplaces resources. If you haven't had a look recently, go to this page on the ACTU website. 

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 quickly as you can to ensure that you have a space. Register by clicking on the date you'd like to attend. 

Ask Renata  

Hello Renata,

I'm a fairly recently elected HSR in a fairly large company. We have six HSRs onsite as well as an OHS Officer. We can't get regular DWGs up and running. We get told we can, but they don't ever happen. Today I was told that we shouldn't have tool boxes or DWGs just for the sake of it only when there is an issue or items to be spoken of. I thought that undermines the whole idea of work groups. Management says they don't stop DWGs from happening but they wont schedule them either. What are your thoughts please?

I think there's a bit of confusion as to what a DWG (Designated Work Group) is. Under the OHS Act, a DWG is a grouping of employees at a workplace, which can have any number of DWGs. These must be negotiated and agreed between employees (or their representatives) and the employer.  A DWG is not a meeting. 

Under the Act, there are two key criteria which must be used as guidance to decide the number and location of any DWGs - that they:

  1. best and most conveniently enable the interests of employees (in the DWG) to be represented and safeguarded, and
  2. best takes account of the need for an HSR to be accessible to each member of the group.

The whole point of having the right type and number of DWGs is so that the members of the DWGs can elect HSRs, have access to them, and for their HSR to take these OHS concerns up with their employer. As an HSR, it is very important that you have the ability to consult with your DWG about their issues so that can represent them - this is your primary role. So, somehow, the HSRs must be able to consult with their DWGs - and this may be through regular meetings. 

However, the OHS Act does not specifically state this is how consultation should occur, and certainly does not say anything about how often a DWG should meet and under what circumstances. However, it does state in s69(1)(e) that employers must "provide such other facilities and assistance to a health and safety representative for the designated work group as are necessary or prescribed by the regulations to enable the representative to exercise his or her powers". As the main role of a HSR is to represent members of their DWG and consult with them regarding health and safety concerns, this should be facilitated by the employer.

I suggest you speak to your employer/OHS Officer about the requirement to provide you with assistance and facilities to adequately represent your members. If they continue to push back, your union organiser should be able to give you further assistance - for example, some unions have agreed regular DWG meetings with their HSR, so this could be negotiated. 

In the meantime, you can ensure that you consult with your DWG members by going around to speak to them - this can be done by undertaking regular workplace inspections, a power you have under s58 of the Act. Also, you should encourage your DWG to come to you when/if they have any OHS issues or concerns. You could investigate setting up a Whatsapp group, or something similar as well. 

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

A reminder that during the last week in November is Asbestos Awareness Week, when 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 on Thursday November 25 at 7pm. Guests on the show will be Ms Simone Stevenson, the Chief Executive Officer of the Victorian Asbestos Eradication Agency and Mr Peter Clark, OHS Organiser with the CFMEU whose specialty is asbestos.  We will also be producing materials for all HSRs to use in their workplace, as well as a couple of interesting videos HSRs should find interesting. 

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

Asbestos disposal - a problem being addressed 

In February 2021 Sustainability Victoria launched the Asbestos Disposal Management Plan (ADMP) to increase accessibility to asbestos disposal across the state.

Since then, SV has been connecting with stakeholder groups to design a safe asbestos disposal network, supported by appropriate infrastructure and guidance to minimise risks to staff, service providers, customers and the environment. It has been collecting information and has sought to establish links across government to inform implementation of the ADMP.

In introducing the ADMP to stakeholders, SV says it 'heard':

  • The highest priority for all is ensuring worker/public safety. 
  • The ADMP is broadly supported. 
  • There are complex implementation challenges that need to be addressed.
  • Illegal dumping and mismanagement of asbestos in other waste streams is an ongoing concern and resulting clean-up costs are high. 

Over the next six months SV will confirm infrastructure and service needs for asbestos transfer sites. These sites, ideally located at existing waste facilities, will provide for short-term storage and consolidation of small quantities of packaged asbestos before it is transported to licensed landfills for disposal. SV says it will work with stakeholders to identify potential locations for pilot asbestos transfer sites, and develop an operational support package and a communications package, which will include key resources and templates.

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

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