Union News

Coronavirus Update

Victoria: The numbers of new infections seemed to be finally coming down but have crept back up over the past few days.

The number of active cases in Victoria on Wednesday November 17 is 14,260, with 996 new cases reported. There have now been 1,248 COVID-related deaths in Victoria. Of the active cases, 357 are in hospital, 58 are in ICU, and 35 of these on ventilators. These numbers are consistently coming down. Check the Victorian situation here

The vaccination rate in the state is amazing, with 87.84 per cent of the population now fully vaccinated. Until we reach the 90 per cent rate, however, there are still measures in place, such as wearing masks indoors, so please comply. If you are not yet vaccinated - please arrange this as soon as possible. 

As at November 17, Australia has had a total of 191,623 cases of coronavirus diagnosed (182,870 on November 10). There have been 1,898 COVID-19 related deaths. 

Worldwide: as at November 17, there had been 255,023,835 infections (251,497,635 last week). The total number of reported COVID-related deaths is 5,128,772 - although we know that this is probably an underestimation. (Note these figures are updated constantly - check the Worldometer website for latest figures and trends). Read more information on Coronavirus   

Vaccinations update

By November 16, 87.84 per cent of Victorians over the age of 16 had been fully vaccinated, and 92.78 per cent partially vaccinated. Australia wide, the figures are 83.53 per cent and 90.7 per cent respectively. After being well behind due to supply issues, Australia is now one of the most vaccinated countries in the world. Check the ABC Vaccine tracker and The Age

Inquest into St Basil's COVID outbreak 

An inquest into Australia's deadliest aged care COVID-19 outbreak has heard that Senior Victorian health officials were warned about the horrifying conditions at a Melbourne nursing home just days after the Commonwealth seized control of the facility.

Victoria's coroner, John Cain, is investigating the deaths of 50 residents, 45 of whom died with COVID-19, at St Basil's Homes for the Aged at Fawkner, in Melbourne's north, in July and August last year.

Judge Cain will investigate how prepared both state and federal health departments were for the outbreak, how it started at St Basil's, the spread of the virus, the decision to furlough staff and how future tragedies could be prevented. 

The inquest has recently received an independent report from Ian Norton, an expert in disaster and emergency health responses, who found that a lack of coordination between state and federal health departments was a "root cause of the tragedy at St Basil's". 

Witnesses have told the inquest that procedures for distancing, wearing and disposing of PPE, were not implemented until well after the outbreak began, and issues with under-staffing and the appointment of a replacement workforce that was 'inadequate'. WorkSafe is also investigating the outbreak. 
Read more: ABC news online; The Age 

COVIDSafe training sessions coming up

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

There are two more COVIDSafe training courses to be run at this stage. The sessions will be 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. 

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.

Ask Renata

I would like to know what the specific requirements are for the number of evacuation exits for a basement gym at my school? The gymnasium is also used for assemblies and exams, catering for around 200 students. I would like to know whether two emergency evacuation exits, which come off a single doorway entry to the space is sufficient.

There is nothing specific in the OHS Act - nor in regulations or even in a Compliance Code.  

However, remember that both the employer and the person with management or control of a workplace have duties under the OHS Act. The employer has general duties under s21 of the Act, to provide so far as is reasonably practicable, a working environment that is safe and without risks to health. The employer also has duties to 'others' - including students - under s23.  

Under s26 of the Act, a person with management and control of a workplace must ensure, so far as is practicable the workplace and entry and exit are safe and without risks to health. In relation to what is reasonably practicable, they must take into account Australian Standards - and there are a few on emergency exits, and so on. 

In addition, the Compliance Code -  Workplace amenities and work environment, in particular the section Responding to emergencies has some advice. Go to this page for more information.  

The 'rules' are actually found in the National Construction Code of Australia. This is a national code and applies to all commercial buildings in Australia, including schools. NCC 2015 was originally adopted by the States and Territories on 1 May 2015 and is now considered law. NCC 2019 was adopted on May 1, 2019 and is now available.  The Code calls up a number of Australian Standards and specifies what is required in terms of number of exits required, dimensions of exits and paths of travel to exits, emergency exit signs, other equipment, fire resistance and more. (The Code can now be accessed online free - upon registration at the ABCB website). However this applies to buildings as they are being built, so may not be helpful.  

In conclusion - if you believe that use of the gym for general assemblies and exams is putting the safety of those in attendance at risk, then what you need to do is raise the issue - through your HSR if you have one (and I hope that you do) - and request that they raise it for resolution with the employer (see Resolution of issues). 

Have some ideas about what would improve things - and if you/the HSR still thinks it's a problem, then are there alternatives? You might also have a chat with your organiser or the OHS organiser at your union. 

If you have any OHS-related questions send them in via our Ask Renata facility on the website. Your questions will be answered by Renata or one of the other members of the VTHC's OHS Unit.  

VTHC Health and Safety Reps' Conference Recording and Resources

In case you either missed the annual VTHC HSR conference or haven't had a chance to check the page, you can access the recordings of the speakers, including WorkSafe's CEO Colin Radford, VTHC Secretary Luke Hilakari, the Minister for Workplace Safety, Ingrid Stitt and the keynote address by Professor Lin Fritschi, John Curtin Distinguished Professor and Epidemiologist from Curtin University. The highlight was a group of United Workers Union HSRs from Crown Casino who told of how they successfully achieved a ban on indoor smoking at Crown.  Check out the recording, and download the materials on this page

Asbestos news

National Asbestos Awareness Week  

National Asbestos Awareness Week 2021 is November 22–28 with the theme “Think Twice About Asbestos.”

November 25: VTHC Asbestos Awareness Week Live Show

How much of a problem is asbestos in Victoria? Probably bigger than you think! Join experts Ms Simone Stevenson and Mr Peter Clark for our Live Show at 7pm on Thursday November 25. Simone is the CEO of the Victorian Asbestos Eradication Agency (VAEA) and Peter is an OHS Organiser with the CFMEU who specialises in asbestos-related issues in the construction industry. Tune in on our Facebook page We Are Union OHS Reps at 7 o'clock for an hour of interesting discussion - and get your questions ready.  

For information and materials developed by the Asbestos Safety and Eradication Agency for the week, check out and download the campaign pack on its website. Resources include:

Nov 26: Asbestos Awareness Webinar – Think Twice About Asbestos

The Asbestos Council of Victoria/GARDS is this year holding an online webinar for Asbestos Awareness Week - but hopes to go to face-to-face events next year.

Webinar Speakers

  • Vicki Hamilton OAM is the current CEO/Secretary of Asbestos Council of Victoria/GARDS and has been a member of ACV/GARDS since the organisation was incorporated in 2001. Vicki has conducted a support group for asbestos sufferers and their families once a month since 2002 in Gippsland and now has a group in Metro Melbourne. Both support groups are open to asbestos & silica sufferers 
  • Jane Anderson - appointed as the Latrobe Health Advocate by the Minister for Health in May 2018. The first-of-its-kind in Australia, the role of the Advocate is to provide independent advice to the Victorian Government on behalf of Latrobe Valley communities on system and policy issues affecting their health and wellbeing.
  • Jo & Kevin Packham - Kevin has Peritoneal Mesothelioma. He and Jo will share their experiences of diagnosis (and misdiagnosis), surgery, treatment and what they are doing. 

The seminar is at 11am Melbourne, Canberra, Sydney.  Register in advance to receive a confirmation email containing information on how to join. 

ACV/GARDS newsletter

The organisation has just published its latest newsletter – full of lots of information. It can be found on its website, and also on its Facebook page

Short renovation video
Was the building you work in built before the late 1980s? If so, do you know whether there's any asbestos somewhere? How much do you know about asbestos? Check out a short video "Breath-taking renovations" which gives potential DIYers great advice on potential dangers in the home. It's amusing but gets across a very important message: Do you want a home that's worth dying for? Check it out now - in time for Asbestos Awareness Week. 

Interesting article on cancer

On the Queensland government website, check out this interesting article: Lung cancer is a leading cause of death 

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

International union news

UK: Maskless PM in hospital visit as MP cases rise

Boris Johnson appeared maskless during a visit to a hospital on 8 November despite fears that COVID is spreading around parliament, with 114 people catching the virus on the Palace of Westminster estate in the past month. The Prime Minister was seen walking along a corridor in a hospital in Northumberland and posing for pictures alongside medical staff, all wearing surgical masks. The PM’s office said Johnson followed the guidelines set by the local NHS trust. A source said he had just left a meeting where he was speaking, was not in a clinical area, and put a mask on shortly afterwards. Safety measures have been gradually reintroduced to the House of Commons, and more Tory MPs have begun wearing face coverings in the chamber, though some frontbenchers remained maskless during an 8 November debate. Mike Clancy, general secretary of the Prospect union, commented: “.. we’ve been warning for some time that poor enforcement or observation of the rules, particularly amongst MPs, would result in a spike in infections”. He added that “everyone should be wearing a mask and practising social distancing to protect themselves and parliament staff. MPs should be leading by example on this.” Source: Risks 1021

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