Union News

Another Victorian worker killed at work

It is with great sadness that we report that a 40-year-old electrician was killed in a workplace incident at a Pakenham restaurant.  It is understood the electrician was installing a light when he was electrocuted at about 5:50pm yesterday.

WorkSafe is investigating.

The death brings the workplace fatality toll to 46 for 2021.

Everyone at the VTHC wishes to express our sincerest condolences to the worker’s family, friends and work colleagues. No worker should die at work. Mourn the dead and fight like hell for the living.

VTHC Health and Safety Reps' Conference, tomorrow October 28

If you haven't yet registered for Health and Safety Month's biggest and best event unfortunately it's too late, as registrations closed last week. However, we will be posting recaps and our conference tools are already available for all HSRs to use post conference on this page

OHS Reps Liveshow: What to expect when you're expecting an inspector

Our OHS Reps Liveshow is back! This time we'll be joined by WorkSafe Inspector, Clayton Larkin, who is going to walk us through what to expect when you're expecting a WorkSafe Inspector. This is important knowledge for all HSRs so don't miss out!

Tune in on our OHS Reps Facebook page on Wednesday, November 3 at 6pm. 

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, although the trend seems to be downward. However, with the lockdown ending and venues opening last weekend, we may see an increase again. 

The number of active cases in Victoria on Wednesday October 27 is 24,164, with 1,534 new cases reported today October 27. There have now been 1065 COVID-related deaths in Victoria - this is 84 since last Tuesday. Of the active cases, 748 are in hospital, 138 are in ICU, and 87 of these on ventilators. Check the Victorian situation here

The Victorian government announced last week that with the state approaching 80 per cent vaccination of those over 16, we would be moving to the next stage of the end that the state would move to the next phase of the Roadmap at 11.59pm Thursday October 28. The wearing of masks is still mandated when indoors, as is checking in with QR codes. If you are not yet vaccinated - please arrange this as soon as possible. 

As at October 27, Australia has had a total of 162,026 cases of coronavirus diagnosed (145,314 last week). There have been 1,653 COVID-19 related deaths. 

Worldwide: as at October 27, there had been 245,256,473 infections (241,806,193 last week) and 4,978,191 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 by October 26, 75.88 per cent of Victorians over the age of 16 had been fully vaccinated, and 90.84 per cent partially vaccinated (67.99 per cent and 88.81 per cent last Tuesday). Australia wide, the figures are 74.12 per cent and 87.09 per cent respectively. 

Overseas travel

Since the early days of the pandemic, overseas travel for Australians has been banned unless they sought and were granted an exemption. Last night, however, Health Minister Greg Hunt announced that from Monday November 1 fully vaccinated Australians will no longer need to ask permission to leave the country, but those who are unvaccinated will still have to ask for an exemption. Read more: ABC news online 

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  

Hello, 

I am an HSR and some of my DWG members have raised concerns that our employer is not dealing with and responding to workplace injuries appropriately.  I would like to look into the matter more thoroughly.

My first step would be to request information about past injuries, the nature of the injury, how they were dealt with, and how many have there been. How would I go about gaining this information and what information am I entitled to receive from my employer as a HSR? 

Requesting injury information would be a good first step to ensuring your employer is adequately handling injuries - but also checking what controls have been/are going to be put in place to minimise the risk of other workers getting injured in similar circumstances or due to the same hazard in the future. 

Employers have a duty to provide HSRs access to any information relating to the health and safety of DWG members under s69(1)(a). The only proviso on this is that if it is medical information then it must be either de-identified or the member/s of the DWG give permission for the employer to release this. Note, that you may get push-back from your employer who may cite 'privacy' and refuse to give you access to this information. However, medical details such as what treatment DWG members received, are not what you are looking for, and so this needs to be challenged. 

The sort of information you could request could include injury reports, incident reports, risk assessments (if they have been done), policies and procedures around injuries and return to work, surveys or any health monitoring (de-identified) done by the employer. 

If there are members of your DWG who have been injured at work and are either off work or been through the return to work process, it would be useful to speak to them about their experiences too. As the HSR, you have the right to consult with members of your DWG, so that could be another good starting step to take.

Remember too that under s35 of the OHS Act, your employer has a duty to consult with you as the HSR, when identifying hazards and risks, when making decisions about the measures to take to control these hazards and risks, when monitoring the health or employees and the conditions at the workplace.. and much more. (see: Duty to Consult). If this had been happening, then you would have been involved with how your employer responded to injuries in the past. If your employer has not been consulting with you, then raise this so that you are involved and I am sure that the situation at your workplace will improve greatly.  

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

Union warns crews at risk 

A screen industry culture is leading to potentially deadly levels of fatigue, a ‘Wake Up Call’ survey by the media union MEAA has revealed. MEAA's survey found two in three workers have fallen asleep behind the wheel either driving home from work or driving to work.

The members said the top three contributing factors were:

  • a working day of more than 12 hours (85 per cent),
  • working back-to-back weeks of long hours for more than a month (84 per cent), and
  • driving time of more than one hour at the beginning and end of the day (82 per cent) as the top three contributors.

Screen crew were virtually unanimous (97 per cent) in agreeing that employers need to do more to prevent this happening. MEAA said its survey was launched after a young crew worker crashed his car into a power pole in the early hours of the morning as a result of falling asleep at the wheel on his way home from work. “Thankfully he walked away unharmed, but it could have been much worse,” the union said. MEAA screen crew members will meet with the studios next year to negotiate offshore film conditions. Read more: MEAA news release.

Asbestos news

Dumped asbestos continuing problem

One of the issues identified years ago in a national review of asbestos in Australia (Moving Towards an Asbestos Free Australia) was the dumping of asbestos waste, partly due to the lack of suitable disposal facilities and partly due to the cost of disposal. A National Strategic Plan was consequently developed to implement recommendations from the report.   

This week however, reports in The Age show that the illegal dumping of asbestos is still a huge and possibly even increasing problem in Victoria, creating risks to the community and costs for local councils and the state government. 

It appears that truckloads of asbestos-ridden soil and building material are being dumped at an increasing rate on roadsides, private property and parks in Melbourne’s outer suburbs. Reportedly, Hume City Council in the north of Melbourne has been forced to remove almost five shipping containers’ worth of waste over the past two months. Read more: The Age  

National Asbestos Awareness Week - new resources 

With one month to go until National Asbestos Awareness Week 2021 the Asbestos Safety and Eradication Agency wants to remind everyone that the campaign pack is live on its website to download and use.

New resources have now been added:

Held in the last week of November, the dates this year are November 22–28 with the theme “Think Twice About Asbestos.”

The pack contains a range of useful materials to use when promoting National Asbestos Awareness Week, including written template materialsprint assets (including posters and flyers) and digital assets (including materials for social media). In the pack there are materials for two key audiences – DIY and Trades.

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

PPE workers need our support

Melbourne-based company Ansell, and other companies in the personal protective equipment industry, have enjoyed record profits from the pandemic. But many workers in their supply chain are migrant workers in exploitative “debt bondage” arrangements – a form of modern slavery.

Migrant workers from Nepal and Burma commonly pay $5,000 to secure a job in glove factories in Malaysia – and then have to work extreme hours, while living in overcrowded company housing, to pay back these debts.

Victorian unions including HACSU, ANMF, and AMIEU (whose members use medical gloves in their work), have joined the international solidarity campaign to highlight conditions in the PPE industry, support workers organising, and demand the reinstatement or compensation for sacked union leaders.

Unionists can contribute to this crowdfunder to raise funds for simultaneous zoom translation to help workers organise across the PPE supply chain.  Read more:  PPE Workers Keep us Safe. They Need Our Solidarity Now. Megaphone journal. Donate now - every little bit helps!

International union news

USA: Union members warned of unsafe conditions prior to fatal shooting on movie set 
On Thursday October 21, police responded to a call on the set of Rust, a western being filmed near Santa Fe, New Mexico, after star and producer Alec Baldwin had unknowingly fired a prop gun with a live round, hitting 42-year-old cinematographer Halyna Hutchins in the chest and killing her. Director Joel Souza, 48, who was standing behind her, was also injured. 

This is not the first time that a person on US movie set has been killed by a prop gun: the son of actor Bruce Lee, Brandon Lee, was shot and killed in 1993. 

While such tragic incidents point to a failure in the protocols and procedures relating to prop guns, it appears that there were a range of safety issues on the set of Rust.  

Several crew members protesting what they believed to be unfair and poor working conditions had walked off the set and quit their jobs just hours before the fatal shooting, according to multiple reports, and employees said that “corners were being cut,” contributing to an overall lack of safety on the production. 

At least six camera workers left the set early Thursday to protest long shoot days, a lack of gun safety, and crew members being forced to drive 50 miles to work every day from Albuquerque, contrary to having been promised lodgings in Santa Fe.  Shockingly, according to at least one media outlet, there had been at least one incident of a prop gun misfiring in the week before the fatal shooting. 

According to the LA Times, when the crew members, who are members of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees Union (IATSE), walked off set, they were replaced with non-union members and were ordered to leave the premises.

The current an inquiry into what went wrong on the set of the film has paused production indefinitely. In a recent development, it appears that the assistant director who handed Alec Baldwin the gun that led to the incident had previously been fired from a movie after a gun was “unexpectedly discharged” on set.  Sources: LA Times, Deadline, Forbes. 

UK: NHS says bring back restrictions 
COVID restrictions including working from home must immediately be reintroduced if England is to avoid “stumbling into a winter crisis,” health leaders have warned. As UK cases of COVID -19 rise sharply, the NHS Confederation said the UK government’s back-up strategy, or Plan B, which includes mandatory face coverings in crowded and enclosed spaces, should be implemented to protect NHS services.

In the 19 October call, the confederation said many of the Plan B measures, particularly around mask-wearing and COVID -19 certification, are common in parts of Europe. UK rates are far higher than in most other European countries. Additional measures could include clear communications to the public that the level of risk has increased, introducing certificates for people’s COVID -19 vaccine status, and legally mandating people to wear face coverings in certain settings, in addition to considering asking people to work from home if they can, the confederation said.

Confirmed cases of coronavirus in the UK have been between 36,000 and 43,000 for the past few weeks. English hospitals have seen increases in COVID -19 cases of about 10 per cent. Deaths are averaging around 120 a day but on 19 October there were 223 deaths within 28 days of a confirmed positive diagnosis. Read more: NHS Confederation news release. BBC News online. Source: Risks 1018

Global: ITF condemns assault on inspector 
The International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) has condemned an incident where one of its inspectors was physically assaulted by a ship’s Master and will now review the safety of all its inspectors. The assault happened on board a vessel which was being investigated for failing to comply with safety regulations, and for apparent irregularities in crew pay and conditions.

The company is a well-known European shipowner, with their vessel flagged to landlocked Luxembourg. “The ITF strongly condemns what has happened here: a physical assault against an ITF inspector who was just trying to do their job,” said ITF inspectorate coordinator Steve Trowsdale. He said details of the assault are being kept confidential as ITF explores options for pursuing the case “via legal avenues”.

ITF has 134 inspectors, coordinators, and union contacts that “do outstanding work” daily defending the rights of seafarers and helping thousands of seafarers every year, he said. But he added “our inspectors are not always welcomed with open arms by a shipowner or their representative on board – particularly if they have something to hide.” The ITF has launched a review into the training and support it offers to inspectorate officials. Read more: ITF news release. Source: Risks 1018 

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