Union News

Two workers killed in the past week

Worker crushed by water tank

A man has died during the delivery of a 600 kilogram polyethylene water tank to a Barwon Downs property last Thursday. It is believed the 79-year-old was helping unload the 31,700 litre tank from a truck when it fell onto him at about 8.30am. 

Worker killed in farming incident

A 47-year-old farm worker has died after becoming entrapped in a hay baler at Swan Marsh yesterday, Tuesday December 14.

Not very much is known, but it is understood the man's arm was caught and dragged into the machine at about 3.45pm.

WorkSafe is investigating both of these fatalities.

The VTHC sends our sincerest condolences to the workers' families, friends and work colleagues.

These deaths bring the workplace fatality toll to 62 for 2021. No worker should be killed at work. Every death is preventable. Mourn the dead; Fight like hell for the living.

If you haven't yet had your End of Year Christmas party... 

Do you know that your employer's duties extend to the end of year bash?

Every day of the year should be safe, that includes the work End of Year Party. Your employer still has a duty to ensure a healthy and safe environment, so far as is reasonably practicable. 

The talented people in our unit have created a game to walk HSRs through what their employers can do to make their workplace Christmas party a safe event for everyone.  Have a go now! VTHC's Workplace Christmas Party Safety: The Game

Coronavirus Update 

Latest on Omicron

On 26 November, the World Health Organization (WHO) designated a new COVID-19 strain, known as B.1.1.529, as a variant of concern and named it Omicron. Omicron joins Delta, Alpha, Beta and Gamma on the current WHO list of variants of concern.

While it appears that the variant is more contagious than Delta, it is unclear whether it is less severe. Evidence is also emerging that the Pfizer vaccine offers a level of protection against the new variant. News from overseas is worrying though as it appears that the effectiveness of the vaccines in preventing infection with Omicron severely wanes 15 weeks after the second shot. Pfizer's effectiveness reduces to about 30 per cent, and the effectiveness of the AstraZeneca vaccine is much lower. While there is protection against serious symptoms, it looks like the need to get a booster much earlier than five months (the current ATAGI recommendation). 

Latest figures December 15

Victoria: The number of new infections daily remains stubbornly over 1,000. The number in hospitals and in ICU also are creeping up. However there is a concern that the omicron variant will mean a sharp increase in numbers - as is happening currently in NSW.

  • Active cases on Wednesday December 15: 11,518
  • New cases reported: 1,405
  • Hospitalised: 365, in ICU: 84; on ventilators: 46
  • Total number of COVID-related deaths: 1,427 
  • Vaccination rate: 91.83 per cent double vaccinated;  93.6 per cent one shot (over 12)

Check the Victorian situation here

Australia: 

  • Total cases: 235,529  (220,552 on December 8).
  • Total COVID-19 related deaths: 2,117. 
  • Vaccination levels: 89.5 per cent double vaccinated; 93.43  per cent one shot. Check the ABC Vaccine tracker and The Age

Worldwide: 

  • Total cases: 271,725,553  (267,252,563 last week).
  • Total number of COVID-related deaths: 5,366,773  

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

Meanwhile, in the UK...

With the Omicron variant taking the UK's daily new infections into scary figures once again (over 48,000 on Sunday), the government has introduced its 'Plan B', with rules including include masks in most public places, COVID passes for some venues and a work from home recommendation. Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the new rules were “proportionate and responsible” after the emergence of the omicron virus variant. He said early indications suggested the new variant “could lead to a big rise in hospitalisations and therefore sadly in deaths” - though a lot is still unknown.

The UK government’s top scientific advisers had urged ministers to introduce vaccine passports and tell people to work-from-home in a bid to combat the spread of Omicron, five days before a move to Plan B including both measures was confirmed.  Source: Risks 1025 

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

With summer coming on we've already started to get questions about what should be fundamental in all workplaces - a plentiful supply of cool, good quality drinking water at all times. These queries come in from all over Australia - but while there are differences in the legislation and the codes, they ALL put a duty on the employer or PCBU to supply workers with drinking water. 

Hi Renata,

I am trying to find clarification on water supply in the workplace.  I work in a large location, at rental desk within the location. The location's manager has not wanted to supply water to any of our booths/rental desks.

There used to be a public drinking fountain which has since closed due to COVID. There was also a nearby cafe which we could ask for water, but it has now closed. We could go quite a long way to find another outlet to buy water, but can only do this during our lunch break.

This means that the only water access we have is water out of toilet taps, which I think is unhygienic.

We have asked the location manager for water access and she said it's not her problem and is putting it back on our manager to provide clean drinking water. When the desks/booths were built, there were no sinks or water outlets included. Does this sound right? I would assume the location supply water, since our company pay for the booths. Can you help?

This query came from another state, and we get these queries from all over Australia - but while there are differences in the legislation and the codes, they ALL put a duty on the employer or PCBU to supply workers with drinking water. 

Under s21 of the Victorian OHS Act the employer has a duty to: provide, so far as is reasonably practicable, adequate facilities for the welfare of employees. What the employer needs to do in order to comply is set out in the compliance code. See: Drinking Water

Under the Work Health Safety Act, which is the relevant act in most of the rest of Australia, the primary duty of care of PCBUs (persons conducting a business or undertaking) includes: the provision of adequate facilities for the welfare at work of workers in carrying out work for the business or undertaking, including ensuring access to those facilities. The relevant code of practice then sets out what this means.

It should be unthinkable that workers in any state, in any workplace, are denied access to free, cool and plentiful drinking water whenever they need it. 

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.  

FWA decision on consultation has implications

Mt Arthur Pty Ltd (Mt Arthur), which sits within the BHP Group of companies, operates an open cut coal mine in the New South Wales Hunter Valley (Mine).

On 7 October 2021, Mt Arthur announced that as a condition of entry to the Mine, all workers must be vaccinated against COVID-19 (Site Access Requirement).  The requirement was to have had a first dose by 10 November 2021, and a second dose by 31 January 2022, and provide evidence of this to Mt Arthur.

The CFMMEU Mining and Energy Division, whose members work at the Mine, notified a dispute in relation to the Site Access Requirement.  The ACTU, AMWU and CEPU also intervened and made submissions in the matter before the Fair Work Commission (FWC).

The dispute was determined by a 5-member Full Bench of the FWC, which held that the Site Access Requirement was not a lawful and reasonable direction due to Mt Arthur’s failure to consult its workforce about the Site Access Requirement, as required by WHS legislation.  

This decision is significant because it underlines the importance of consultation as a fundamental requirement of achieving workplace health and safety.  It means that employers who claim to act on the basis of workplace health and safety have to take their consultation obligations seriously, and consult prior to making a decision, not only on how to implement a decision which has essentially already been made. 
Read more: CFMEU & Matthew Howard vs Mt Arthur Coal Pty Ltd, Summary of Decision. [pdf]

2022: time for Comcare training!

Are you an elected HSR or Deputy HSR employed by a Federal Government Department or by a national company granted ‘self insurer’ status under Comcare? (Check the list here). It is important to make sure you attend the initial five day training course, and then keep your knowledge of the Work Health Safety Act, Regulations and Codes of Practice current, so join our expert trainers at the VTHC for Comcare Training in 2022. 

Please visit our training page for dates for Initial and Refresher training courses, follow the links and you will be enrolled in an instant!  We look forward to seeing you there.

Asbestos news

ASEA releases new guidelines

The Asbestos Safety and Eradication Agency has released the Asbestos-Cement Water and Sewer Pipe Management Guidelines to assist water and/or sewerage service providers eliminate or minimise the risk of exposure to asbestos fibres released from AC pipes.

It is estimated that more than 40,000 km of asbestos-cement (AC) water and sewer pipes remain in the ground across Australia. Installed between the 1920s and 1980s, these AC pipes are reaching the end of their usable lifespan, requiring maintenance or replacement. These pipes become hazardous when asbestos fibres are released into the air or soil, which can occur when the pipes are damaged, disturbed or deteriorating. The Guidelines provide practical advice on how to identify, assess and control the risk of exposure to airborne asbestos fibres in accordance with current work health and safety and environment protection laws.

The Guidelines include information on controlling asbestos exposure risks during maintenance and removal of AC water and sewer pipes, as well as methods to safely remediate deteriorating AC pipes and manage decommissioned AC pipes that remain in the ground.

The Guidelines have been developed in collaboration with representatives from industry, state and territory work health and safety regulators, environment protection regulators and trade unions.

ACT: Newly renovated house to be demolished after Mr Fluffy asbestos found

Canberra builder Dean Pappas has called for mandatory asbestos inspections when properties are being sold after deadly Mr Fluffy loose-fill asbestos in the ceiling of his dream home. He bought the 1927 property at auction for $1.8 million to renovate it.

The seven-week renovation was almost complete, with only a ceiling fan to be installed in the bathroom, when the electrician cutting a hole from the ceiling cavity pulled up layers of insulation found white fibres. A sample sent for analysis confirmed it was asbestos.

Mr Pappas advised the ACT Government’s Asbestos Taskforce: the newly renovated house will have to be demolished and the site remediated. Luckily, no contamination was found inside although he and several other tradesmen entered the ceiling cavity and may have been exposed.

He has agreed to the government's buyback proposal and settled with the government. He plans to buy the block back from the government when the site is cleared, and rebuild the home sometime in 2022.

Mr Pappas believes that the asbestos fibres found in the ceiling are remnants left from an incomplete clean-up, but it was missed during inspections done in the 80s and 90s of Mr Fluffy properties and during an extension in which the roof cavity was opened. He believes the government should mandate inspections for any property built before 1980, as recommended by the Asbestos Taskforce in 2014 but not adopted. Read more: The Canberra TimesThe Riotact 

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

International union news

UK: Journo's union launches online safety tool

UK Journalists’ union NUJ has launched an online interactive tool to help journalists deal with hostile environments and cyber threats. The union said the initiative is in response to journalism becoming “increasingly hazardous. Reporters die or are injured every year.” It added: “Media workers’ phones and computers are targeted with sophisticated spying software. Daily harassment of journalists is at an all-time high.”

To help journalists minimise the risks they encounter – from conflict zones to the cyber battlefront – the NUJ said it was launching Storysmart, a suite of free online training modules, produced with financial support from the Google News Initiative. Michelle Stanistreet, NUJ general secretary, said: “Journalism has always been dangerous, but hostile environments now extend to the streets of our own cities and cyber attacks can be mounted on the devices in all of our pockets. Storysmart is designed to raise journalists’ awareness of the challenges they face and provide tested methods to minimise risk and protect sources, however and wherever they are carrying out their work.” The Storysmart interactive modules divide risk into hostile environments, psychological trauma and wellbeing, cyber risks and dealing with injury. Designed to work on phones, tablets and laptops, each bite-sized modules takes 10 to 20 minutes.   Read more: NUJ news release and Storysmart interactive modules. Source: Risks 1025 

Share Tweet

RELATED

USA: AMAZON SAFETY HEAD THROWS IN THE TOWEL
Amazon hired Heather McDougall in 2019 as the top executive overseeing workplace health and safety.
Read More
GLOBAL: HEALTH AND CARE WORKERS HURT BY PANDEMIC
GLOBAL: HEALTH AND CARE WORKERS HURT BY PANDEMIC At least a quarter of health and care workers surveyed reported anxiety, depression and burnout symptoms working in the pandemic, new research has found....
Read More
Regulator News
EMPLOYERS REMINDED OF RISKS POSED BY HEAVY RAIN WorkSafe have warned that workplace ladders, stairs and elevated work platforms can become particularly dangerous in wet weather, and employers should consider pausing outdoor...
Read More