Union News

Fatality in Victoria 

We are still awaiting more details and confirmation from WorkSafe, but we believe that earlier this week there was a work-related road fatality. We send our sincerest condolences to the family, friends and colleagues of the deceased. 

COVID Update 
Following the relaxation of restrictions, the number of new daily infections has, as expected, increased. Today the state recorded 7,081 new cases. However, the numbers in hospital and in ICU have continued to fall. 

Victorian figures, March 9:

  • 38,874 active cases  (last week 41,162)
  • 9 deaths reported today
  • 2,611 COVID-related deaths so far
  • 196 are in hospital, 32 are in ICU, and 3 of these are on ventilators 
  • 1,098,093 total number of infections since the pandemic began

You can check the Victorian live update here.

Australia wide: there have been a total of 3,429,179 COVID cases (3,236,095 last week) and 5,464 deaths. 
Worldwide: as at March 9 there had been 449,453,561 worldwide infections (438,2556,613 last week). The number of official COVID-related deaths has now exceeded 6 million: 6,034,275.  (Source: Worldometer.) Read more: Coronavirus; COVID-19 Victorian situation

How we live 
More workers are returning to their workplaces, as can be seen by increased traffic on the roads and people on public transport. A reminder that all workplaces must still have COVIDSafe plans in place, to ensure that the risks of contracting COVID at work are identified and minimised. Mask-wearing and checking in requirements have not changed since last week. 

Vaccination update 
As of March 9, 79.46 per cent of all Victorians had received their second dose, 85.41 per cent had received their first dose, and 46.63 percent had their third dose. Australia wide, the figures are 79.88 per cent, 85.99 per cent respectively, and 46.22 per cent had received the third shot. You can check the ABC Vaccine tracker and The Age for daily updates. While Victoria is no longer in 'lock down', it is extremely important that everyone maintains high levels of care to minimise the risks of getting infected. 

If you have not done so yet, please organise to get your third, or 'booster', shot as soon as possible. Remember that boosters reduce your chance of hospitalisation by 90 per cent against Omicron and your chance of death by even more. To book your third shot today, go to the Victorian government's vaccine booking portal here 

COVID sessions for HSRs 
Online COVID Safe Training for HSRs has returned this year. There are two sessions over the coming weeks:  

  1. March 10 - 12.30 to 3 pm 
  2. 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.

VTHC Ventilation webinar and workshop - if you missed it
The OHS Unit ran a very successful webinar on a very topical subject last week: Ventilation. The turn out was great, the presentations were fabulous, and the discussions in the workshops were very interesting. The team is currently editing it, and once this is done, we will load it on our FB pages and on the site. In the meantime, have a go at So Fresh: A Ventilation Game, that walks you through controls that can improve ventilation in your workplace. We also have a new tool: Ventilation checklist.  Read more: Ventilation and infectious diseases  

Is your workplace still COVIDSafe? 
Now that restrictions are relaxing even further, it can be hard to keep up with what your bosses’ obligations are, and what you can do as a worker. It’s important to remember that workers must be consulted as their COVIDSafe plan changes, if you’re worried or unsure about this, don’t hesitate to get in touch with our COVIDSafe team here. All workers deserve to have a COVIDSafe Workplace.

Ask Renata

Hello Renata,

I would like to know what my rights are with regard to a microwave, fridge, kettle, and so on at work. I work in retail and upper management denies these at all our stores. We don’t have clean drinking water at work either. Are you able to provide some information?

It is unacceptable for your employer to not provide the adequate facilities for your welfare. Under section 21 of the OHS Act, employers have a legal duty to provide "adequate facilities for the welfare of employees". The Act is objective-based so it doesn’t specify what “adequate facilities” are. However there is a Compliance Code which sets out what employers need to do/provide in order to comply with section 21. 

The compliance code specifies “Employees need to have access to hygienic facilities for preparing and eating meals while at work”. It sets out what dining facilities are required. The code says the employer needs to provide:

  • food warming facilities, such as a microwave oven
  • vermin and dustproof storage for all food and utensils. This needs to include a refrigerator big enough to store perishable foods for all employees using the facilities 
  • Boiling water and clean drinking water for dining rooms and dining areas. The water supply needs to be separate from any basin used for washing hands. An appliance that provides boiling water as required is desirable, but an electric jug may be appropriate in workplaces where a small number of staff are present. At workplaces remote from a fixed room or building, the water may either be boiled on site or transported there, provided that it arrives as hot as practicable. 
  • free, clean drinking water at all times 

Larger workplaces need to have dining rooms, while workplaces with fewer than 10 employees eating at one time, then a separate dining room need not be provided, but a dining area still needs to be provided. For more information, and a link to the Compliance Code, go to these pages: Drinking water and Dining facilities.  

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.  

More jobs in the OHS Team

We are looking for people who want to make a difference. There are positions open for two fixed term Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) Outreach Organisers on a 6 month (until 30 Sept 2022) contract to work in our Carlton office as part of our OHS Team.

The OHS Outreach Organisers will be responsible for helping workplaces be COVID-safe by connecting with workers and workplaces to promote the importance of QR code check-in and other COVID safe activities. The Organisers will also be responsible for promoting vaccine take-up amongst workers. Applications close 11:59 pm, 15th Mar 2022. 
Read more, including position descriptions here.

Asbestos News 
UK: Boss of asbestos removal firm jailed
An asbestos management company director has been jailed for 10 months after failing to protect workers from asbestos exposure during a major refurbishment project in Plymouth, sout-west England. Plymouth Magistrates’ Court heard that in February 2017 Ensure Asbestos Management Limited workers raised concerns that they were being put in danger while refurbishing a department store. The company had been retained to survey and remove asbestos containing material.

An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) discovered irregularities in the asbestos surveys and clearance certificates, with some found to be fraudulent.

Ensure Asbestos Management Limited pleaded guilty to a criminal safety offence was fined £100,000 (AD$179,400). Because the company is in liquidation, there is no prospect of a payment being made and so no order for costs was made. Billy Hopwood, the director of Ensure Asbestos Management, pleaded guilty to two criminal safety offences and was sentenced to 10 months imprisonment. He has was also disqualified from being a company director for five years. Contracts manager Phillip Hopwood pleaded guilty to three criminal breaches and will be sentenced at a later date. An HSE inspector said the company failed to work within the law despite having a wealth of knowledge on the risks associated with exposure to asbestos and the necessary training to have done so safely. They deliberately falsified documents and cut corners. Read more: HSE news release. Source: Risks 1034

Asbestos communication guidelines
A reminder that the Asbestos Safety and Eradication Agency (ASEA) has released Guidelines for communicating about asbestos risk and Communicating Asbestos Facts and Figures guide for public comment, which closes Friday 8 April 2022. The papers and further information including how to make a submission can be accessed here.

Annual Asbestos Conference 
Another reminder of this year's Asbestos Safety and Management Conference: 19–20 May 2022 at the Fairmont Resort & Spa in the UNESCO World Heritage listed Blue Mountains. Run by the Asbestos Safety and Eradication Agency (ASEA), it is being jointly hosted by the Blue Mountains City Council (BMCC). 

The national event will focus on those on the front-line of asbestos safety management. It will be a hybrid event, offering delegates the opportunity to either attend in-person or livestream the event. Read more: 2022 Asbestos Safety and Management Conference.

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

International union news 
England: Changes ‘to hit low-paid workers hard’
The end of COVID rules will leave low paid workers are an increased risk, UK's retail union Usdaw has warned. The union was commenting after PM Boris Johnson scrapped the remaining COVID legal restrictions in England and said he wanted to shift the onus from state mandates to personal responsibility. Under the Living with COVID plan which took effect on 24 February, the legal requirement to self-isolate after testing positive for COVID has ended, as well as provision of free tests.

Usdaw general secretary Paddy Lillis said “there is some concern whether this is based on following the science or political convenience. COVID is still out there, and infections remain high, so we urge a cautious approach to lifting all restrictions.” He added: “Leaving self-isolation up to individuals means that many people who can’t afford to take time off may feel pressured into going into work. It could also lead to spike in infections, putting more pressure on staffing levels and on low paid workers’ finances.”

The Usdaw leader said scrapping free tests “is purely an economic decision by the government. However, charging for tests will price out low-paid workers who are already struggling to make ends meet with food and fuel prices rising, energy bills soaring and real wages falling. This will be an additional cost that many cannot afford.” He said despite the government removing mask wearing and other rules, the union “will continue to call on employers to put the safety of our members first and urge the public to respect shopworkers by wearing face coverings, observing hand hygiene and maintaining social distancing.” Read more: Usdaw news release

UK: Rules needed on intrusive worker surveillance 
Intrusive worker surveillance tech and artificial intelligence (AI) risks are “spiralling out of control” without stronger regulation to protect workers, the UK’s peak union council, the TUC has warned. It says that left unchecked, these technologies could lead to widespread discrimination, work intensification and unfair treatment. The warning came as the TUC published new polling, conducted by Britain Thinks, which revealed an overwhelming majority of workers (60 per cent) believe they have been subject to some form of surveillance and monitoring at their current or most recent job. Surveillance can include monitoring of emails and files, webcams on work computers, tracking of when and how much a worker is typing, calls made and movements made by the worker, using CCTV and trackable devices. Three in 10 (28 per cent) agree monitoring and surveillance at work has increased since COVID - and young workers are particularly likely to agree (36 per cent of 18-34 year olds). Last year the TUC launched its manifesto, Dignity at work and the AI revolution, for the fair and transparent use of AI at work (see Risks 991) .
Read more: TUC news release, TUC AI manifesto and reports [and PDF of Manifesto]. Source: Risks 1034 

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