Union News

COVID Update

Although Omicron continues to spread quickly across Victoria and Australia, with the state recording 9,908 cases today February 9 (up from the last few days), it does appear that we are over the peak of this current outbreak. 

As of today, number of active cases in Victoria was 57,022 (last week 73,886) with 21 deaths reported. There have now been a total of 2,219 COVID-related deaths in Victoria. 542 are in hospital, 71 are in ICU, and 27 of these are on ventilators. These numbers are decreasing. You can check the Victorian live update here.

Australia wide, there have been 2,780,440 COVID cases in total (2,579,240 last week) and 4,302 total deaths.  Worldwide: as at February 9, 2022 there had been 400,234,714 worldwide infections (381,718,207 last week). There have now been 5,780,676 official COVID-related deaths worldwide.  (Source: Worldometer.) Read more about Coronavirus

Vaccination update 

Please organise to get your third, or 'booster', shot as soon as possible: boosters reduce your chance of hospitalisation by 90 per cent against Omicron and your chance of death by even more. To book your booster shot today, go to the Victorian government's vaccine booking portal here.

As of February 9, 92.6 per cent of Victorians over the age of 12 had been fully vaccinated, 94.11 per cent had received their first dose. Australia wide, the figures are 92.82 per cent and 95.11 per cent respectively. In Victoria, 43.16 per cent of those over 12 have now had their third dose. Check the ABC Vaccine tracker and The Age for daily updates.

Many will be aware that the Victorian government requires that all workers – in Melbourne and regional Victoria – on the Authorised Worker list be fully vaccinated - including their third shot (if eligible) by 12 February. Teachers must have their third shot by February 25, if eligible. 

Survey reminder: Is your workplace doing enough to prevent the spread of Omicron?
The COVID-Safe workplaces team is currently surveying health and safety reps and workers across Victoria to understand how Omicron has affected their workplaces and what employers are doing to limit the spread. Have your voice heard and be part of making our workplaces safer and better for all by completing the survey here!

COVID sessions for HSRs

Online COVID Safe Training for HSRs has returned this year. VTHC is running four (4) sessions over the coming weeks:  

  1. February 21 - 1 to 3.30 pm 
  2. February 28 - 1 to 3.30 pm
  3. March 10 - 12.30 to 3 pm 
  4. March 21 - 12.30 to 3 pm 

The sessions are geared towards Victorian HSRs, and aim to provide resources and information on how to exercise your powers as an HSR in helping prevent workplace outbreaks of COVID-19. They have been updated to cover the Omicron wave and the importance of Rapid Antigen Tests and booster doses - however if you attended the course last year the conversation around your powers at work is the same.

Ask Renata

Hi there,

Can you tell me whether there is an age limit on climbing ladders in the workplace?

The OHS Act does not go into such level of detail - in fact, the Act does not mention ladders at all. This is because OHS legislation in Australia is what we call ‘objective based’ – that is, the duties on employers require that they provide and maintain, so far as is reasonably practicable, a working environment that is safe and without risks to health. This is called the ‘general duty of care’, and covers everything. The duty includes ensuring, so far as is reasonably practicable, safe systems of work, and the safe use of 'plant' (this includes ladders). 
See Duties of employers

Employers must identify hazards and risks at the workplace and then take action to eliminate them or minimise them so far as is reasonably practicable - and this must be done in consultation with affected workers and their elected health and safety representatives (HSRs). See Duty to consult

Regulators recommend that the use of ladders be minimised because there is a real risk of falls. WorkSafeSA recently issued an alert after two serious injuries and a fatality where the regulator warned that ladders should be a 'last resort'. Other high-level controls include performing height work on passive fall prevention devices like scaffolds, safety mesh or elevating work platforms, the regulator says in the safety alert

If a worker is more at risk due to age (for example young and inexperienced, or older and therefore possibly less stable) then the employer needs to take this into consideration as well. Check out this page on Ladders 

In addition, if the work is being done at two metres or more above the ground, then the employer must follow the hierarchy of control as specified in the Prevention of Falls 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.  

Reminder: Job opportunity in the VTHC OHS Unit

If you're experienced in OHS and have strong commitment to unions and workers, then don't forget about the exciting job in the VTHC's OHS Unit. The role includes producing SafetyNet, answering 'Ask Renata' queries, writing content for the OHS Reps@Work website and liaising with affiliates and WorkSafe. Please pass on to anyone who may be interested. Applications close February 20.  Check out the job description on Ethical Jobs here.

February 4: World Cancer Day

According to the best available data, over one in ten (14 per cent) cases of lung cancer could be prevented if asbestos, silica, diesel exhaust and welding fume exposure were reduced in workplaces. 

This equates to about 1800 work-related deaths every year from lung cancer that could have been avoided with better safety measures.

In recent years, Australia has seen a dramatic spike in the number of workers suffering from silicosis caused by exposure to respirable silica dust. Silica dust also causes lung cancer. On the occasion of World Cancer Day last week, the ACTU said that without immediate action from the Federal Government and employers, the numbers of lung cancers is likely to increase.

ACTU Assistant Secretary, Liam O'Brien said, “We are calling upon the Morrison Government – once again – to implement the recommendations put forward by the National Dust Diseases Taskforce." 

Adequate workplace exposure standards, including for diesel exhaust and welding fumes, must be implemented for all dangerous substances, to avoid more preventable deaths from lung disease. Read more: Silica; Diesel; Welding; ACTU media release

Asbestos News

International push to ban baby powder

Due to concerns over alleged links to cancer, there is an attempt to force a shareholder vote to stop Johnson & Johnson (J&J) selling talc-based baby powder across the world, including the UK. The shareholder vote has been proposed by Tulipshare, a London-based investment platform that allows customers to pool shares in order to meet the threshold to submit resolutions for shareholder votes. 

J&J withdrew its talc-based baby powder from sale in the US and Canada in 2020. Sales of baby powder had dropped after US regulators detected carcinogenic chrysotile fibres in a sample.

The company is now facing more than 34,000 lawsuits including many from women who claim they used baby powder and later developed ovarian cancer. Read more: The Guardian

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

More men can and do take parental leave

The national Workplace Gender Equality Agency this week issued the first of two 2020-21 scorecards which shows the proportion of employers offering both parents paid leave has risen by up to 25 percentage points in some male-dominated industries over eight years. New data  from the agency's 2020-21 census on gender equality for employers of 100 or more employees, reveals 3 in 5 employers are now offering paid parental leave, the vast majority of those making paid leave equally available for both parents.

Agency director Mary Wooldridge says men are becoming less concerned about the potential stigma, improving women’s ability to return to work and bolster their long-term economic security.

Although women are still far more likely to take parental leave, 91 per cent of organisations providing it make no distinction between women or men taking leave, and only 9 per cent offer it solely to women. Employers leading the way are offering gender-neutral parental leave which can be taken by either parent with no qualifying period – with leaders in the field offering as much as 26 weeks (6 months). The mining and construction sectors have seen an increase of 25 per cent and 21 per cent respectively. 

Ms Wooldridge said: “When fathers take parental leave they report improved wellbeing and happiness ... and women say they receive more emotional support and experience less stress.” 
Read more: Workplace Gender Equality Agency media release; The Age  

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