Union News

Another Victorian worker killed at work

In the second fatality involving a forklift in less than a week, a 49-year-old worker was killed in an incident on Saturday at Lara. 

WorkSafe, which is investigating, believes the worker was helping move a steel rack with a forklift when the rack dislodged and fell on him. 

The death brings the workplace fatality toll to 45 for 2021.

Everyone at the VTHC sends our sincerest condolences to the man's family, friends and work colleagues. No worker should die because of work. Mourn the dead and fight like hell for the living. 

Forklifts, though common in many workplaces, are extremely dangerous pieces of plant (or equipment). Employers have a duty to identify the risks of working with forklifts and eliminate them so far as is reasonably practicable. 
Read more: Forklift Safety 

October 15: Anniversary of West Gate Bridge collapse

Last Friday, October 15, marked 51 years since the West Gate Bridge collapsed. It was Australia’s worst industrial tragedy. 35 workers died that day, 18 were seriously injured and hundreds of family members and workers were deeply affected by this disaster. To this day, they and the communities of the workers who lost their lives still feel the trauma of the incident as if it happened just yesterday.

Every year since then the West Gate Memorial Committee has organised a ceremony but once again, due to the COVID-19 restrictions in Melbourne, we were not able to commemorate their lives in person at the base of the bridge this year. However CFMEU members across the State observed a minute's silence at 11.50am to reflect on that tragic day and how it changed them, changed their community and changed their industry. 
Based on a post on the CFMEU Facebook page, by the delegate on the Epping Towers, Hacer Group. Read more about the bridge collapse West Gate Bridge 50th Anniversary.

VTHC Health and Safety Reps' Conference, October 28 - Not too late to register

Just over a week to go!! If you haven't yet registered for Health and Safety Month's biggest and best event it's not too late to register online. Due to the ongoing lockdown, the event will once again be an online event.  Registrations close COB tomorrow, Wednesday October 20, so register now!

This year the theme is: HSR Super Sleuths: Exercising Your Powers To Uncover Hidden Hazards And Risks.   

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 - however, if you didn't give your employer 14 days' notice, you're not guaranteed to get paid leave to attend - but you should still ask. Also, it's too late to get the conference materials posted to you, but these can be downloaded and printed at home. 

When: Thursday October 28, 8.30am - 2.30pm
Where: Online
Cost: Free!
Open for all Victorian HSRs and Deputy HSRs 
Register here, now! (if ok'd by employer or you're taking a leave day)

Have you shared your experience of COVID Safety in the workplace? 

Fill out the VTHC's COVID-Safe team's 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 last Thursday October 14 at 2,297. While we are hoping that this means we have reached the peak, with vaccination levels expected to reach 70 per cent fully vaccinated by Friday, we may yet see higher numbers once the lockdown ends. 

The number of active cases in Victoria on Tuesday October 19 is 22,476, with 1,749 new cases reported. There have now been 981 COVID-related deaths in Victoria - another 47 since last Wednesday. Of the active cases, 851 are in hospital, 155 are in ICU, and 103 are on ventilators. Check the Victorian situation here

The Victorian government announced last weekend that the state would move to the next phase of the Roadmap at 11.59pm this Thursday October 21. This is the beginning of the end of our long lockdown and comes a week early as we will have reached 70 per cent fully vaccinated ahead of schedule. This means, among other things, that the curfew will end, and we can have visitors in the home. The wearing of masks is still mandated, as is checking in with QR codes. If you are not yet vaccinated - please arrange this as soon as possible. 

As at October 19, Australia has had a total of 145,314 cases of coronavirus diagnosed (131,415 last week). There have been 1,543 COVID-19 related deaths. 

Worldwide: as at October 19, there had been 241,806,193 infections (239,447,170 last week) and 4,918,952 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 19, 67.99 per cent of Victorians over the age of 16  are fully vaccinated, and 88.81 per cent partially vaccinated (60.37 per cent and 86.22 per cent last Wednesday). Australia wide, the figures are 69.18 per cent and 85.12 per cent respectively. 

In NSW news which may also influence other states, the NSW Supreme Court has upheld the State government's use of Public Health Orders to make COVID-19 vaccinations mandatory for certain categories of workers, dismissing arguments that the directions compromised objectors' "right" to choose what they put in their bodies. 

In two proceedings brought against NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard, Chief Medical Officer, Dr Kerry Chant and the State of NSW by a total of 10 workers in health, aged care, construction and education, the plaintiffs argued that the orders made under NSW's Public Health Act were invalid. Source: Workplace Express

COVIDSafe training sessions coming up

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

Due to high demand, additional COVIDSafe training courses have been added. The sessions will run on the dates and times below and are capped at 40 participants per course due to the interactive nature of the workshops. 

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  

Hi there, 

Can you tell me whether light fittings with missing diffusers are an OHS risk?

While it's not a clear OHS risk, light fittings in workplaces, particularly newer ones, are part of the overall design and if they were supplied with diffusers, then these should be in place.

A “diffuser” is any material that scatters light, but it's most commonly applied in the form of a light panel or cover. The main purpose of a diffuser is to diffuse (or “spread out”) light. It makes bright or harsh light softer across a wider area and eliminates some of the unwanted glare caused by recessed lights.

Employers have a general duty of care under s21 of the OHS Act to provide and maintain for employees a working environment that is safe and without risks to health, so far as is reasonably practicable. This includes the workplace itself and includes ensuring that any 'plant' is properly maintained. Further, they have a duty to monitor the conditions in the workplace, such as the levels of light. See: Duties of employers.

With regards to light and lighting, there's nothing specific in law, but the topic is covered in the Compliance Code and there are also Australian Standards which set out how much light is needed for the type of work being done. For more information, go to this pageYou'll note that the code says the lighting should be free from glare, and this is something diffusers prevent.

What I recommend is that you talk with the members of your DWG and check whether the lighting is causing them any problems, and then take the matter up with your employer.

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

Asbestos news

WA: Asbestos contamination concern

Two building sites at Curtin University are being checked for asbestos contamination after a Sydney gypsum board manufacturer found traces of the dangerous fibre in material imported from China. Media reports are that Probuild has banned the cutting of fire-resistant gypsum board at its St Catherine’s College and Unilodge construction sites at Curtin University’s main campus in Bentley.

Manufacturer USG Boral has warned its product should not be used until it completes its investigations and many sites across Australia are now being checked.  

CFMEU WA state secretary Mick Buchan said two other construction sites in Perth were affected in addition to Curtin University. Mr Buchan said on the two sites he was aware of work was stopped, areas isolated, unused boards covered and hygienists called in to conduct testing. “It beggars belief were still seeing imported products get through the borders and Border Force,” Mr Buchan said.

There have been a series of contamination problems in recent years from materials sourced from China. The Perth Children’s Hospital had asbestos in ceiling panels made in China.
Source: Sydney Morning Herald  

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

International union news

UK: School unions call for more safety measures

Education unions have written to England's education secretary asking him to urgently reconsider the reintroduction of additional safety measures in schools, in light of rising rates of COVID infection and absence among school students.

The five unions – GMB, NASUWT, NEU, UNISON and Unite – said they will also be writing to all local authorities and directors of public health asking them to consider measures in their local areas. The unions point to measures now being readopted in several local authority areas in response to rising cases, including social distancing, reintroduction of bubbles, avoidance of large gatherings such as assemblies and meetings, and the reintroduction of face coverings in secondary schools.

The unions have warned that without such measures, students’ education and the health of students, their families and school staff will all be damaged unnecessarily. GMB national officer Avril Chambers said, "School staff have kept our schools open throughout the pandemic: they deserve to stay safe and our children deserve not to have their education interrupted any more than it already has been." UNISON assistant general secretary Jon Richards said, “To offer pupils and staff greater protection, face masks must return right away, along with school bubbles and other sensible precautions that were ditched. Air filters are also key to limiting the virus spread and ensuring pupils have a more stable academic year.” 
Read more: 
NEU news releaseUNISON news release and release on school Covid surgeThe Guardian. Source: Risks 1017

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