Union News

Two Victorian workers killed in separate incidents

WorkSafe is investigating the deaths of two workers who were killed last Friday in separate incidents. 

In the first incident, a 53-year-old crane operator was crushed by steel beams weighing several tonnes at about 11.15am in Dandenong South. At this stage, it appears that a coupling failed, causing the beams to fall on the worker.

Less than three hours later in Kyabram, a 56-year-old worker died after a tractor-spreader combination he was operating overturned. According to WorkSafe, it is understood he was driving the vehicle on a road when it jack-knifed and rolled at about 2pm.

The VTHC sends our sincerest condolences to the men's families, friends and work colleagues. No worker should die at work - every workplace death is preventable. 

The two deaths bring WorkSafe's workplace fatality toll to nine for 2022, six fewer than at the same time last year.

COVID Update 
It has been difficult to predict what the effect of the BA.2 sub-variant of Omicron has been. Although experts have said there would be an increase, this is not yet clear, as case numbers have fallen and are now rising again. There were 9,594 new infections reported yesterday.

The number of hospital admissions is continuing to increase, though those in ICU are stable for the moment. These numbers highlight that we must keep taking precautions. 

Victorian figures, March 22:

  • 52,983 active cases  (last week 42,250)
  • 7 deaths reported 
  • 2,682 COVID-related deaths so far
  • 256 are in hospital, 24 are in ICU, and 5 of these are on ventilators 
  • 1,195,239 total number of infections since the pandemic began

You can check the Victorian live update here.

Australia wide: there have been a total of 3,943,245 COVID cases (3,656,931 last week) and 5,736 deaths. 

Worldwide: as at March 22 there had been 471,914,860 worldwide infections (461,312,402 last week). The number of official COVID-related deaths is now 6,104,226.  (Source: Worldometer.) 
Read more: Coronavirus; COVID-19 Victorian situation

Vaccination update 
As of March 21, 81.02 per cent of all Victorians had received their second dose, 85.73 per cent had received their first dose, and 50.67 percent had their third dose. This is not high enough, given that it's the third dose that reduces the the chance of being hospitalised by 90 per cent. Also low are the percentages of children between the ages of 5 and 11 who have been vaccinated. 

Australia wide, the figures are 81.55 per cent, 86.26 per cent respectively, and 48.64 per cent had received the third shot.
Check the ABC Vaccine tracker and The Age for daily updates. 

There is a misconception in the community that the new COVID variants are less serious than the original strains. But as we know, people are still dying from COVID - including young people. Peter Collignon, an infectious diseases physician at the Australian National University, said in an article in The Age this week, that in 2020 the death rate for coronavirus was roughly 1 to 2 per cent of all people infected. This figure soared dramatically for those over 80 years of age. This of course was mainly with the Alpha strain, as opposed to now with Omicron. Post-vaccination, the risk of death still remained dependent on a person’s age and whether they had been vaccinated.

“If you’re a 30-year-old your chance of death was one in 10,000, even a year and a half ago, but being vaccinated sees that drop another twentyfold,” he said. “Those over the age of 70 and the unvaccinated remain at highest risk of severe illness.”

In other words - it's is still extremely important to be as fully protected as possible. 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. Read more: People are still dying from COVID. But who? And are they vaccinated? The Age

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.

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 about the role of the HSR. There is no mention in my job description that part of the job is taking on the role of l HSR. However, as soon as I began the job management told me that I would be the office's HSR and I had no choice in the matter. In addition to this, I am also the deputy Fire Warden (also not by choice).

I don’t believe my skill set is suited to a regulatory role such as HSR, although I am trying to make the best of it and learning as much as I can. However, I find myself wearing too many hats and I feel anxious about trying to remember my different responsibilities and expectations and I do not want to do the HSR role. Can I choose to relinquish my role? Can management stop me doing this?

Under the OHS Act, a person must be nominated to take on the role of the HSR – and accept that nomination. Once this happens, then the HSR must be elected in the workplace by members of the relevant Designated Work Group (DWG). If there is only one nomination, then that person is automatically elected as HSR. However, the employer cannot simply appoint a HSR.  This is outlined in sections 54, 55 and 57 of the OHS Act. According to your description of how things happened, you would not be considered by WorkSafe as an HSR. In any case, note that the role of an HSR is totally voluntary, and a person has the right to resign as HSR at any time. 

Further, an elected HSR has no duties as HSR. The HSR’s role is to represent the members of their DWG, not to carry out tasks for the employer, or have any legal duties. The employer can nominate someone as their OHS representative, who may have OHS related duties – but this position is not the HSR.  If your employer is confused and has appointed you as the OHS management representative, then this is another matter and needs to be sorted out. Your employer cannot expect you to take on extra duties that you are not trained for – and my advice would be to contact your union.

With regards to being appointed as a Fire Warden, this is something employers usually call for people to indicate their interest in taking up. However, if not enough people volunteer, then the employer may look to appointing staff. This is not related to the role of HSR, and in this case too, the employer needs to provide adequate information and training. 

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.  

ANMF calls on employers to end violence 
The Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation's Victorian branch has called on private aged care employers to urgently adopt its 10-point plan to end occupational violence. The call comes in light of a 2021 RMIT University report that found 93 per cent of workers in the sector have experienced physical violence, and 44 per cent have been threatened with a weapon. It found that a culture of blame and management focus on accreditation standards in the industry are contributing to "dire consequences" from violence. 

Based on a wave of surveys of more than 800 managers, nurses and personal care workers, the study also found 87 per cent have been sexually harassed by facility residents. More than 70 per cent reported being hit, kicked, shoved, spat on or bitten, and having objects thrown at them.

The researchers, Dr Jillian Cavanagh and Patricia Pariona-Cabrera, said their study found greater implementation of the 10-point plan – which provided employers with practical systems and process to prevent and reduce the opportunity for violence – was associated with lower levels of workplace violence and better mental health for staff.

There was a lack of training for managers, nurses and carers around emotional intelligence, resilience and managing emotions, Cavanagh said. A culture of blame was also prevalent, where nurses and carers are held responsible when incidents of aggression and violence occur.

The study made 10 recommendations, including that private aged care providers examine strategies and implement the ANMF's plan and related human resources management practices as a systemic policy. Read more: ANMF Occupational Violence and Aggression - It's Never OK campaign; ANMF 10-point plan [pdf], RMIT Report [pdf].  Source: OHS Alert

Asbestos News 
SA: Focus on managing asbestos
SafeWork SA inspectors are visiting workplaces across that state to ensure they are managing asbestos, and will focus on identifying and managing asbestos in buildings built before 31 December 2003. They will be checking to ensure that asbestos in workplaces is identified and its location marked and recorded in an asbestos register.

The compliance campaign supports the National Strategic Plan for Asbestos Awareness and Management 2019-2023 by the Asbestos Safety and Eradication Agency (ASEA). The National Strategic Plan aims to eliminate asbestos-related diseases in Australia by preventing exposure to asbestos fibres. Additional information on the above compliance campaign is available on the SafeWork SA website where you can also download a couple of useful checklists. 

ASEA Consultation on new guidelines 
A reminder that 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.  

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. Closing date for public comment is April 8 For more information, please contact ASEA directly at e[email protected]

UK: Company withheld information on asbestos risks
One of the UK’s biggest manufacturers of asbestos and the industry bodies that it co-founded historically withheld information on risks posed by the carcinogenic material, playing down the dangers while lobbying the government for product warnings to be tempered, according to documents released after a lengthy court battle.

A lawyer who acted for the Asbestos Victims Support Groups Forum UK in its fight to obtain the documents about Cape compared its behaviour to the tobacco industry’s former refusal to admit evidence of harms from smoking while its own research showed the opposite.  

Despite the company having considered labelling in the 1950's and its own medical advisor accepting in 1969 that the fatal cancer mesothelioma could be caused by “short and possibly small” exposure and that “no type of asbestos proved innocent”, when Cape began to label its product in 1976 with a “take care with Asbestos” warning, it said “breathing asbestos dust can damage health”, but made no reference to the risk of mesothelioma, the documents show. Read more: The Guardian (UK).

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

International Union News
UK: Retail chain apologises for saying staff could work with COVID 
Retail chain Wilko has apologised for ‘some miscommunication’ in which it told staff they could continue to work if they tested positive for COVID. In a memo, reported by The Mirror, the company said staff with the virus could continue to work in stores if they felt well enough. In the memo, the company, which has 414 stores in the UK, said: “If you test positive for COVID-19 and feel well you can continue to come to work, if you feel too unwell you can follow the absence policy.”

Wilko confirmed the memo was sent out but the company has since made a u-turn. “When we get something wrong, we hold our hands up, admit it, and work to correct the situation,” Wilko chief executive Jerome Saint-Marc said in an online statement. In a post on the company’s Facebook page he said he wanted to “reassure all our customers and team members” that the company's advice to staff with COVID symptoms or those who test positive was to stay at home and avoid contact with others. “As throughout our 92 years on the High Street, the safety and wellbeing of our shoppers and teams is at the heart of our business and we're truly sorry for any understandable concerns our communications may have raised,” he added.

People with COVID in England are no longer legally required to self-isolate with all restrictions now removed, but it is still recommended. In Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, people are still asked to self-isolate after a positive test. Read more: The Mirror and related report. BBC News Online. The Guardian. Source: Risks 1036

UK: Always-on culture is a significant problem
The right to disconnect is supported by a clear majority of workers, new data from Ipsos has revealed. Despite 67 per cent of the UK workforce having work-related communications outside of their working day, more than half think it is unacceptable to do so, the world’s third largest market researcher found. Commenting on the findings, Andrew Pakes, research director at the union Prospect, said: “Digital technology has undoubtedly kept us safe, connected and working during the pandemic, but for many the lines between work and home have become blurred, making it harder to switch-off work and contributing to burnout and poor mental health. Prospect has been leading UK calls for a right to disconnect to help ensure flexible working is a success and that we put in place the safeguards to tackle the risks of surveillance technology and work pressures that mean some people simply cannot switch-off from work.” He added: “Employers need to recognise that this is a problem which will ultimately result in lost days, decreased productivity, a demotivated workforce and burnout.” Read more: Prospect news release Source: Risks 1036

Ukraine: US reporter shot and killed 
An award-winning US journalist working in Ukraine, Brent Renaud, has been shot dead in Irpin, outside Kyiv. Ukrainian police said the journalist was targeted on 13 March by Russian soldiers. Two other journalists were injured and hospitalised. It is the first reported death of a foreign journalist covering the war in Ukraine, although several have been injured. The International and European Federations of Journalists (IFJ-EFJ) condemned the killing and called for the killers to be brought to justice.  Less than two weeks ago Ukrainian journalist Yevheniy Sakun, a camera operator for the Ukrainian television channel LIVE, was killed when a building near the TV transmission tower in Kyiv was hit by shelling.

“We are shocked by the increasing number of attacks on journalists trying to cover the war in Ukraine,” said IFJ general secretary Anthony Bellanger. “The deaths of journalists Brent Renaud and Yevheniy Sakun cannot go unpunished.” Ricardo Gutiérrez, general secretary of the European journalists’ federation EFJ commented: “These systematic attacks on journalists and other war crimes require a strong response from the international community.” He added: “The EFJ calls once again for the establishment of a special international tribunal on these war crimes committed in the context of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. This murderous spiral must be stopped!” The UK journalists’ union NUJ has produced war zone safety information with guidance for reporting in conflict zones. Read more: IFJ news release. NUJ news release and war zone safety information. Source: Risks 1036

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