Union News

Two Victorian workers killed in the past week

Since the last edition of SafetyNet, two Victorian workers have lost their lives.

In the first incident, a weed-spraying contractor was killed when he was thrown from a side-by-side vehicle at a She Oaks farm, about 100kms from Melbourne. According to WorkSafe Victoria, the 55-year-old male driver and a passenger were ejected from the vehicle when it tipped backwards as they drove up a steep hill at about 3pm on Wednesday November 17.

The driver suffered fatal head injuries and the other worker was seriously injured. This is another example of the danger of working with vehicles such as quad bikes. 

In the second incident, a 49-year-old gardener died after losing control of a chainsaw he was using to prune branches at a Footscray property on the morning of Thursday November 18. It appears that he was working from a ladder when he lost his grip on the chainsaw and sustained serious lacerations to his arm and upper body. Unfortunately, he later died in hospital.

WorkSafe is investigating both fatalities. These fatalities bring the number of Victorians killed at, or due to, work in 2021 to 53. These fatalities have again prompted WorkSafe to launch a campaign urging employers and workers to slow down and put safety first. WorkSafe media release.

The VTHC sends our sincerest condolences to the family, friends and work colleagues of the two workers. No worker should die at work: every death is preventable. Mourn the dead - fight like hell for the living. 

Ask Renata

In response to last week's question (on what are the specific requirements are for the number of evacuation exits for a basement gym at a school - also used for assemblies and exams, catering for around 200 students) we received some helpful extra advice. 

From Steve, UFU member and Acting Station Officer in the Community Safety Department at Fire Services Victoria: 

"Expert advice on the question around required exits can be obtained from the Municipal Building Surveyor at the local council, a private building surveyor or the Building Inspection Unit at Fire Rescue Victoria. The main factors are: building use, size and number of occupants as determined by the National Construction codes. Hope this helps."

Thank you Steve! 

This week's question:

Hi Renata,

Can you tell me what the workplace stress laws are, specifically in relation to workload and lack of managerial guidance? 

There are no specific laws on stress (yet) but psychological health is covered by the OHS Act and the general employer duties under s21 - which include the duty to provide (so far as is reasonably practicable) systems of work that are safe and without risks to health. And to clarify what employers are meant to do: see The concept of ensuring health and safety.  

I have said 'yet' because we are in consultation with WorkSafe, the OHS Regulator, in the development of regulations specifically on psychological health, which will put duties on employers to identify and control hazards and risks to psychological health - known as psychosocial risk factors. These are all things which lead to workers being under stress.  

Check too, the section on Stress on the website, including 'Legal standards'.  We also have our own 'standard' on Psychosocial health until such time as we have regulations. 

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.  

ACTU: Mind Your Head campaign to improve workplace mental health

Work is a significant factor in people’s mental health. Meaningful, rewarding, good work can impact positively on our mental health. Equally, issues such as high workloads, customer and client aggression and poor workplace relationships can adversely impact on workers’ mental health.

The ACTU's Mind Your Head campaign is about recognising the impact that the workplace itself has on workers’ mental health.  It encourages action in workplaces to address mental health hazards – just like we would take action on a slip hazard. Read more about the campaign, which is being done jointly with the VTHC, here

The campaign aims to provide employers and workers with high quality resources that support them in their efforts to improve workplace mental health. Check them out here:

As the campaign progresses, further resources will be developed and added to the Mind Your Head website. 

Asbestos news - National Asbestos Awareness Week

This year, ASEA, OHS/WHS regulators, unions and asbestos awareness groups are asking Australians to Think Twice About Asbestos.

Asbestos is still found in many locations, including in homes, commercial buildings, and public buildings. In fact, asbestos is still found in 1 in 3 homes across Australia. So, whether you are doing maintenance, undertaking renovations or work for yourself or as a part of your job, it is essential that you think twice about asbestos.

New ASEA research

The Asbestos Safety and Eradication Agency (ASEA) with SEC Newgate Australia has conducted an online survey with home improvers to evaluate asbestos knowledge, attitudes and behaviours.

ASEA commissioned this research to compare results and analyse change from the benchmark survey conducted in 2020. However, in comparison to the 2020 benchmark survey, the scope of this research was broadened to include all home improvers rather than those that engaged solely in DIY projects. This is anyone undertaking home improvement projects from small maintenance or improvements to large renovations – including those who outsource all or some of the project. 

Two in three adults do some level of home improvement – with or without professional help – underscoring the importance of improving the asbestos safety knowledge and capacity of these people.

Key findings include: 

  • 67 per cent of Australians are home improvers
  • 38 per cent has worked on a property with asbestos risk (built before 1990)
  • 46 per cent cited pandemic-related motivations for home improvement projects
  • Online videos, hardware shops and family/friends are the top sources of home improvement inspiration and information
  • Over 70 per cent agree that builders, governments hardware shops and home improvement shows should provide asbestos information 
  • Compared to other risks, asbestos is seen as less likely but more serious. Only 6% mention asbestos as a risk without being prompted. 
  • 22 per cent have contacted an asbestos specialist in the past, and 38% feel professional assistance is too expensive. However, 15% believe you don’t need training or specialist knowledge. 
  • 20 per cent of those who had found asbestos admitted to inappropriate (illegal) disposal – most commonly placing it in their household (red) bin.

Read more: ASEA media release and Research Report [pdf]

New HSR asbestos safety video

HSRs have a very important role in their workplaces to ensure that if there is any asbestos present it is either removed if necessary or managed if not practicable. Check out the VTHC's new video with HSR Cameron McCormick who successfully negotiated a safe outcome when asbestos was found in his school when renovations were due to begin. Cameron advises that where there's asbestos in the workplace, you can't just 'do nothing'. 

EVENTS:

Tomorrow, Thursday 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 tomorrow night. 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.

Also Thursday November 25 - Sampling Asbestos

The Australian Institute of Occupational Hygienists is hosting a free webinar from 4 - 5.30pm on sampling asbestos. This is a joint webinar with the AHCA, AIOH, ASEA, FAMANZ and NATA and primarily for practitioners involved in the characterization of asbestos containing materials to give them an update on issues as well as improve their knowledge and skills.

11am November 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, with speakers:

  • Vicki Hamilton OAM, CEO/Secretary of Asbestos Council of Victoria/GARDS. 
  • Jane Anderson - Latrobe Health Advocate since in May 2018. 
  • 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.  Check the organisation's latest newsletter on its website, and also on its Facebook page

Friday, 26 November - WA guidelines on contaminated sites

Western Australia Health is hosting a webinar from 1.30 - 4pm on its updated Guidelines for the assessment, remediation and management of asbestos contaminated site

New Asbestos Videos

The National Association of Testing Authorities (NATA) has launched two videos on asbestos inspection, identification and testing.

Dumping increases across Australia

A Keep Victoria Beautiful report has found that councils' ratepayers, including those in the Alpine Shire, are increasingly having to foot hefty clean up bills for illegal dumping of waste.

According to KVB, councils in the state spent $89 million responding to illegal waste in 2019/20. While there has been a dramatic uptick in construction, household, clothing and green waste discarded in parklands, on nature strips and on council property, the biggest growth has been in the dumping of asbestos contaminated soil, the report found.

Typically, offenders are commercial operators (construction businesses, civil engineering operators or rogue rubbish removalists) looking to offload waste on the cheap or a member of the public who is transient by nature and constantly on the move. Read more: Keep Victoria Beautiful news

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

Updated materials on the OHS Reps site

We have now updated our FAQs based on the Compliance code on first aid:

And also, following the making of the new silica regulations:

Coronavirus Update - latest figures November 24

Victoria: The number of new infections daily remains stubbornly around the 1,000 mark, but the good news is the number of active infections, and hospitalisations are coming down.

  • Active cases on Wednesday November 24: 14,260
  • New cases reported:
  • Hospitalised: 284, in ICU: 52; on ventilators: 29
  • Total number of COVID-related deaths: 1,301  
  • Vaccination rate: 89.6 per cent (over 12)

Check the Victorian situation here

Australia: 

  • Total cases: 200,651 (191,623 on November 17).
  • Total COVID-19 related deaths: 1,968. 
  • Vaccination levels:  Check the ABC Vaccine tracker and The Age

Worldwide: 

  • Total cases: 258,912,113 (255,023,835 last week).
  • Total number of COVID-related deaths: 5,181,348  

(Note these figures are updated constantly - check the Worldometer website for latest figures and trends). Read more information on Coronavirus   

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.

Did you miss our UV Safety Training Webinar?  

Our UV Safety Training Webinar was a big success but we know not everyone who wanted to attend, could attend. Don't fear, we have information on our website about UV, including an action plan for HSRs. Click here to visit our website and keep your workplace UV safe.  

An important part of staying UV safe is monitoring the UV you and your coworkers are exposed to every day. Download our UV safety poster to hang in your workplace.

International union news

UK ratifies prevention of violence at work treaty

The UK's peak union body, the TUC has welcomed the government's ratification of an international treaty on prevention of violence and harassment at work. The TUC was commenting after work and the government's Pensions Secretary said the UK was putting measures in train to ratify the International Labour Organisation’s Convention 190 on violence and harassment.

The statement from the minister added: “Following our response to the sexual harassment in the workplace consultation, published earlier this year, the government will also be introducing a new proactive duty requiring employers to take steps to prevent their employees from experiencing sexual harassment and introducing explicit protections for employees from harassment by third parties, for example customers or clients.” She said the move will also “motivate employers to make improvements to workplace practices and culture.”

TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “Ratifying the convention is a welcome statement of intent – it now comes down to the action and enforcement that follows. No matter who you are, or the job you do, you should be safe from violence and harassment at work. But each year thousands of UK workers are assaulted, abused and harassed while trying to do their job. And we have even seen a rise in violence and abuse towards key workers in the pandemic.” The TUC leader added: “Unions, government and industry must now work together on the laws and workplace policies needed to prevent abuse and punish those responsible. This should include recognising that not every worker faces the same risks. Insecure workers, frontline staff, women, Black workers and those with other protected characteristics face greater risks that must be addressed.” 
Read more: TUC news release. Statement by Thérèse Coffey, secretary of state for work and pensions, 15 November 2021. NUJ news releaseILO Convention 190, Violence and harassment convention 2019. Source: RIsks 1022

Portugal: Bosses banned from messaging staff after hours

Portugal has banned bosses from text messaging and emailing staff out of working hours as part of new laws dubbed the “right to rest.” The move is part of changes being introduced to improve work-life balance in response to an expansion of working from home in the country. Companies with more than 10 staff could face fines if they contact employees outside their contracted hours. There are also new rules on allowing staff with children to work remotely. Parents will be allowed to work at home indefinitely without seeking prior approval from their employers until their child turns eight.

In addition, companies may also have to contribute to higher household bills from being home-based, such as energy and internet costs. Measures to tackle the isolation remote workers can feel are also included, with companies expected to organise regular face-to-face meetings. However, some elements of the package were not approved by Portugal's parliament, including a “right to disconnect” allowing staff to turn off all work devices out of hours. Read more: BBC News Online. Source: Risks 1022

Asia: Shoe workers create international links

Over the past weeks, footwear workers from Cambodia, Indonesia, Bangladesh and Vietnam have established a trade union network as a means to increase their power against their common employer Pou Chen, a major global corporation. Pou Chen Corporation is a Taiwanese owned company that is the world's largest manufacturer of branded sports footwear employing over 250,000 workers globally. The representatives of workers from these countries met online in a meeting to discuss wages, allowances, workers’ benefits and workplace facilities. The meeting was facilitated by the global union federation IndustriALL. It is hoped that linkages like these will lead to greater cooperation and organising at an international level as a counter to the relentless Race to the Bottom that global companies force on workers.

India: mine incident claims four lives

On 9 November, four workers were killed when a roof collapsed in an underground mine at the state-owned Singareni Collieries Company Limited (SCCL) in India’s Mancherial district. One of the workers had retired in July but had to go back to work after the state government increased the retirement age from 60 to 61.

SCCL management has agreed to pay all benefits to the bereaved families, as well as  to offer one permanent employment to an eligible member from each bereaved family.

Riaz Ahmed, general secretary, Singareni miners and engineering workers union (HMS) and member  of the joint bipartite committee for coal industry (JBCCI), said: “The accident exposes glaring safety lapses. From January to December 2020, around twelve workers died in nine accidents and so far in 2021, ten workers have lost their lives in four accidents at SCCL operations only. The unions are in dialogue with SCCL management and are demanding that the inspectorate system is reinforced and that an eligible and sufficient workforce is recruited for SCCL’s mines.”

According to the unions, in 2021, there has been a total of 32 mine incidents where 61 workers have been killed and seven seriously injured. Between May and December 2020, about 18 mine incidents occurred, killing 18 workers and seriously injuring 27. Source: IndustriALL

Share Tweet

RELATED

International news
India reels under blanket of toxic smog The Indian government, fresh from its victory at the latest climate summit in succeeding to undermine efforts to curtail the use of fossil fuels, especially...
Read More
Prosecutions
Related companies commit identical breaches Victorian employer Greenham Gippsland Pty Ltd was on November 11 fined $25,000 after a rise-and-fall platform (RFP) at its Tanjil South abattoir lowered onto and caused severe...
Read More
Research
Research finds burnout prevention strategies A study focusing on the three dimensions of burnout, instead of total burnout scores, has found that time pressure is the most important predictor of emotional exhaustion -...
Read More