Union News

Delivery driver killed 
WorkSafe is investigating the death of a 73-year-old man at Noble Park last Thursday. It is understood the delivery driver was attempting to cross Heatherton Road when he was struck by a vehicle at about 8.30 pm.

According to WorkSafe, the death is the seventh workplace fatality for 2022, three fewer than at the same time last year. The VTHC sends our sincerest condolences to the worker's family, friends and colleagues. No worker should die as a result of work - all workplace fatalities are preventable. 

COVID Update 
Experts are warning that with a new sub-variant of Omicron now in the community, the numbers of new infections are likely to increase, once again - and appear to be doing so already.

The new sub-variant of Omicron, BA.2, is even more contagious, and it is taking over. On March 15, NSW reported 30,402 new COVID cases overnight as Omicron sub-variant infections surge.

According to a former World Health Organisation scientist, nearly everyone will catch the subvariant. Although the now-dominant strain is not as deadly as previous ones, including Delta, it is up to six times more infectious than the original strain of COVID-19. The virus is also up to 30 per cent more infectious than the initial BA.1 version of Omicron.  

The higher risk of contagiousness comes from the variant's superior ability to 'evade' immunity - meaning even triple-vaccinated people are susceptible to catching the new strain. More on the sub-variant: How much more transmissible is Omicron's BA.2 sub-variant? Sydney Morning Herald

As this new sub-variant continues to spread Victoria’s most recent daily tally of new infections has climbed to 9562 whilst NSW reports 30,402. The number of hospital admissions is creeping up, though those in ICU have continued to fall. These numbers highlight that we must keep taking precautions. 

Victorian figures, March 16:

  • 42,250 active cases  (last week 38,874)
  • 8 deaths reported today
  • 2,611 COVID-related deaths so far
  • 201 are in hospital, 24 are in ICU, and 6 of these are on ventilators 
  • 1,145,639 total number of infections since the pandemic began

You can check the Victorian live update here.

Australia wide: there have been a total of 3,656,931 COVID cases (3,429,179 last week) and 5,616 deaths. 

Worldwide: as at March 15 there had been 461,312,402 worldwide infections (449,453,561 last week). The number of official COVID-related deaths is now 6,071,564.  (Source: Worldometer.) 
Read more: Coronavirus; COVID-19 Victorian situation

How we live 
While more and more workers are now physically in the workplace, because there is a lot of virus around it is important to keep taking precautions, such a wearing a mask indoors when a physical distance of at least 2 m cannot be achieved and reviewing ventilation controls. Remember 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 15, 80.27 per cent of all Victorians had received their second dose, 85.65 per cent had received their first dose, and 49.75 percent had their third dose. This is really not high enough! Australia wide, the figures are 80.74 per cent, 86.1 per cent respectively, and 47.68 per cent had received the third shot. You can check the ABC Vaccine tracker and The Age for daily updates. 

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. Those in the community who are particularly vulnerable are now getting their fourth shot. 

COVID sessions for HSRs 
Would you like to know more about how to make your workplace COVID Safe? Sign up for our free online course scheduled on March 21 - 12.30 to 3 pm.  The session is geared towards Victorian HSRs, and will provide resources and information on how to exercise your powers as an HSR in helping prevent workplace outbreaks of COVID-19. It has 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 remain the same.

April 5 VTHC Webinar - Occupational Violence 
Anyone can experience occupational violence & aggression (OVA) in their workplace. OVA can come in all forms from name-calling to physical acts of violence. Each instance of OVA can have a massive impact on the people involved. HSRs fight for safer workplaces every day, so join our OHS Network for a webinar and workshop on occupational violence & aggression.

When: Tuesday, 5 April
Time: 4pm - 5:30pm
Where: on Zoom 
RSVP for the OVA webinar and workshop here.

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,

My question is a little complicated: nominations were called for HSR and several people nominated. Since the nominations were submitted and closed, the workforce has been reduced by half. This has meant a big change in the size and membership of the DWG. 

Should it be required to redo the nominations process? Or can they just pluck those people who are staying on out of the original group of nominees?

My first initial query is: who are ‘they’? It sounds as though the election is being run by management, who initially called for nominations.  

If it is at all possible, I would recommend that you (the DWG) notify your employer that, as per s54(4) of the OHS Act, you have determined how the election is to be conducted – and that you will be conducting it yourselves, including the nomination process. You should seek assistance from your union if necessary. The union can also conduct the election. 

If you cannot achieve this, or if the employer quibbles that the election is separate from the nomination process, then I suggest that you request the nominations be called again. If there has been such a drastic change to the DWG, then it would not seem to be ‘due process’ to just have those from the previous callout who still happen to be there to be the only ones who can be elected. The change in the DWG may mean that someone who did not nominate may wish to nominate now.  

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.  

Asbestos News 
Asbestos warning to beekeepers 
Illustrating how asbestos can truly be a 'hidden' danger, the Australian Border Force has warned all importers of bee smokers about the rise of asbestos detections found in these products.

ABF says in its media release: "Asbestos is a Tier 1 prohibited import under the Customs Regulation 2015. Breathing in asbestos fibres can have devastating health effects and is known to cause asbestosis, lung cancer and mesothelioma."

it reminds importers that unlawfully importing products with asbestos can carry significant penalties such as fines of up to $222,000 or three times the value of the goods, whichever is greater, and/or imprisonment for up to five years.

Battery-powered electric and manual smokers are commonly advertised to the Australian market on online shopping websites by international sellers, however the majority are cheaply obtained. The manual model requires manual force by squeezing a bellows constructed with woven cloth-like material that often includes a high concentration of asbestos. While the electric model has a small motor and fan contained within an attached handle. An insulation board situated between the handle and the canister is often made with bonded asbestos. Read more: Australian Border Force Newsroom media release 

ASEA Consultation on new guidelines 
The Asbestos Safety and Eradication Agency is consulting on the new Guidelines for communicating about asbestos risk which have been developed by the Agency in consultation with a broad range of stakeholders. Also for consultation is the Communicating Asbestos Facts and Figures guide which is to be read and used in conjunction with the guidelines.  

The consultation is focused on asbestos communications, specifically the communication of asbestos risk. The guidelines are for anyone who has responsibility for communicating about asbestos risk with the public, and include principles for producing clear, consistent and complementary communication messages. They can also be used to establish effective processes for community engagement in both the workplace and non-workplace context.

The guidelines cover both communicating to prevent asbestos exposure and communicating in response to asbestos exposure. These can involve different communication channels, processes and messages. It is important that preventive and responsive communications are considered in tandem, as they affect each other and do not operate alone.

These guidelines are a ‘how to’ for developing effective messages and processes for communicating asbestos risk, in both preventative and responsive situations. To aid the development of effective messages, ASEA has also provided a companion document – Communicating Asbestos Facts and Figures 

Anyone who is interested should participate and make a submission, but the agency has nominated unions and worker representatives, and employer representatives as one of the groups it particularly wants to hear from.

Consultation open: Asbestos Risk Communications Guidelines and Asbestos Facts and Figures The information and papers can be accessed on the ASEA website. For more information, please contact ASEA directly at e[email protected]

Russia: Increasing Profits in Asbestos Sector
A subsidiary of Russia’s 2nd biggest asbestos conglomerate Uralasbest on March 10, 2022 announced a trebling of net profits from the sale of asbestos-cement building products for 2021 compared to 2020. In the media release, the Belgorodasbestocement company said that over the same period revenue rose by 37.2%. The company, established in 1952, exports asbestos-cement roofing material as well as pipes. See: Белгородасбестоцемент” в 2021г увеличил чистую прибыль в 3,4 раза на фоне роста выручки [“Belgorodasbestocement] (in Russian) Increased net profit by 3.4 times in 2021 against the background of revenue growth]. Source: IBAS

Italy: Asbestos in Schools
Italy’s asbestos legacy has led to the widespread presence of toxic products throughout the educational infrastructure which continues to endanger the lives of all school users including teachers, staff and children. Although the law has banned the use of asbestos in Italy in 1992, remediation efforts have been slow as a result of which the built and natural environment remain contaminated. Efforts by civil society groups to press the Ministry of Education to adopt a 2030 deadline for the eradication of asbestos in schools are ongoing. Read more: Amianto ed eternit al bando da 30 anni, ma ancora in 2.300 scuole: ogni giorno lo respirano 50mila docenti e Ata e 350mila alunni [Asbestos and eternit banned for 30 years, but still in 2,300 schools: 50 thousand teachers and staff and 350 thousand pupils breathe it every day] Source: IBAS

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

International Union News
UK: Violence at work treaty ratified 
The UK's peak union council, the TUC has welcomed the UK government signing on to a international treaty on prevention of violence at work. Commenting on the 7 March ratification of the International Labour Organisation (ILO) Violence and Harassment Convention – Convention 190 - TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “Ratifying the convention is a welcome statement of intent. Unions have campaigned hard for several years to get global protection against workplace violence and harassment, and today's ratification will help to get other nations signed up too. 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.ITUC Convention 190 campaign toolkitILO Convention 190, Violence and harassment convention 2019. Source: Risks 1035

Global: ITF launches sanitation right toolkit
A new toolkit containing resources for transport workers to win sanitation rights has been launched by the sector’s global union ITF. The toolkit includes key information about health risks related to a lack of access to toilet and welfare facilities, checklists for negotiators and model contact language. ITF says sanitation rights are human rights, yet for far too long, transport workers have been denied basics like access to toilets and washing facilities, adding poor sanitation comes at the high cost of workers’ safety, health and dignity. The toolkit also includes examples of successful sanitation campaigns undertaken by ITF affiliated unions. The global union notes many of the resources in this toolkit have been developed by, or in collaboration with, its affiliated unions around the world and will be continually updated. It includes a Transport Workers’ Sanitation Charter. 
Read more: ITF news releaseSanitation Toolkit and Sanitation Charter

Europe: Stress campaign reaches European Parliament 
A call for a European Union-wide stress law has been ‘well-received’ by the European Parliament’s employment committee, the unions behind the initiative have said. Their draft report on Mental Health in the Digital World of Work, presented to the committee on 28 February, includes the call for a directive on work-related psychosocial risks. The report, part of the Eurocadres and ETUC ‘EndStress.eu’ campaign, is the second parliamentary report to call on the European Commission to move forward with legislation.

It followed Danish MEP Marianne Vind’s report, A new EU strategic framework on health and safety at work post 2020. Reacting after the latest employment committee discussion, Eurocadres president Nayla Glaise noted: “In the coming weeks we are hopeful that MEPs will adopt two separate reports that call for a directive on work-related psychosocial risks.” She added: “The message to the Commission from MEPs is clear – European workers need strong legislative protection from work organisations that are unfit for the modern age.” Research from the EndStress campaign has shown that four in every five managers are concerned about work-related stress, with 60 per cent of all lost working days in Europe attributed to work-related stress and psychosocial risk.
Read more: 
Eurocadres news release. Source: Risks 1035 

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