Union News

Helicopter crash kills five 
The pilot and four passengers on a helicopter charter flight were killed when it crashed last Friday near Mt Disappointment. It had  taken off from Moorabbin Airport, picked up passengers at the Batman Park helipad in Melbourne and was on its way to Ulupna. 

Australian Transport Safety Bureau investigators took over the site of the helicopter crash on Friday, with Bureau Chief Commissioner Angus Mitchell indicating they would remain at the site analysing the wreckage for at least three days.  The Commissioner added that once their analysis was complete and they had retrieved any components to take back to their Canberra technical facilities, the helicopter’s owner or their insurance company would winch the wreckage out.

It is unclear whether all of these fatalities will be added to Victoria's workplace fatality statistics although preliminary investigations indicate all were on work-related business.

The VTHC sends our sincerest condolences to the family, friends and work colleagues of those who died in the incident. 

April 28: International Workers' Memorial Day

This year's international theme is: Make safe and healthy at work a fundamental right.

Every year, Victorian Trades Hall Council hosts a commemoration service to remember those Victorians who lost their lives at work.

Please join us on the 28th of April for International Workers Memorial Day 2021 to commemorate the workers we have lost in the past year. The ceremony will include a minute's silence at 11 am and an opportunity to lay wreaths. 

The event will be live-streamed through the Victorian Trades Hall Council Facebook page or you are welcome to attend VTHC in person.

When: Thursday April 28, 10.30 am - 11.30 am.
Where: At the 'Memorial Rock', Victorian Trades Hall Council, corner Lygon and Victoria Street, Carlton. Let us know whether you're coming: RSVP here  

Remember the dead, fight like hell for the living. 

COVID Update 

There were 12,150 new infections reported today. The number of new infections is gradually increasing, as are the numbers in hospital. It is for this reason that the few restrictions in the state remain in place.  

Victorian figures, April 6:

  • 62,028 active cases  (last week 58,488)
  • 3 deaths reported 
  • 2,766 COVID-related deaths so far
  • 331 are in hospital, 16 are in ICU, and 4 of these are on ventilators (note these numbers are quite a bit lower than they have been over the past week)
  • 1,343,648 total number of infections since the pandemic began

You can check the Victorian live update here.

Australia wide: there have been a total of 4,785,679 COVID cases (4,436,572 last week) and 6,436 deaths. 

Worldwide: as of April 6 there had been 493,746,386 worldwide infections (485,506,335 last week). The number of official COVID-related deaths is now 6,182,708. (Source: Worldometer

An interesting fact: While there were only 23,899 new infections in the USA yesterday, there were a staggering 448 deaths. In Australia however, even though we had 58,178 new cases, we had far fewer deaths: 38. This may be related to the health care system in Australia compared to that in the United States. The other explanation is probably the level of vaccination in the community. While Australia has almost 83 per cent of our total population vaccinated with two doses, only 65.8 per cent of people in the USA have received two doses.   Read more: Coronavirus; COVID-19 Victorian situation

New COVID-19 Variant appears in the UK 
A new COVID-19 variant has been identified in the United Kingdom, but experts say there is no cause for alarm yet. The variant, known as XE, is a combination of the original BA.1 omicron variant and its subvariant BA.2. This type of combination is known as a "recombinant" variant. An early indication from the U.K. suggests XE could be slightly more transmissible than BA.2, but the World Health Organization said more research is needed. Source: abcNEWS and watch Dr Norman Swan's explanation on how variants develop and why we should not discontinue surveillance.

Vaccination update 
As of April 4, 82.34 per cent of all Victorians had received their second dose, 85.78 per cent had received their first dose, and 52.43 percent had their third dose. This is not high enough, given that it's the third dose that reduces the chance of being hospitalised by 90 per cent. 

Australia wide, by April 5, the figures are 82.9 per cent, 86.5 per cent respectively, with 52.1 per cent having received the third shot.  Check the ABC Vaccine tracker and The Age for daily updates. 

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,

We have a small office inside a warehouse we are renting. What are the regulations in regards to the office having openable windows as opposed to just glass windows?  

This is a very important question given the need for good ventilation in times of COVID. 

Your employer has a legal duty under Section 21 of the OHS act to provide and maintain a working environment that is safe and without risk to health and, under section 20 of the Act, to eliminate risks to health and safety so far as is reasonably practicable. (See: Duties of Employers) Although there is not a specific rule or anything in legislation requiring an office to have windows that can open, there are a number of other health and safety considerations that open windows play an important role in addressing, with ventilation being the most salient.  

Since the COVID-19 pandemic, ventilation has had a more important role in workplace health and safety. It is your employer’s duty to minimise, so far as reasonably practicable,  the risk of the spread of infectious diseases in your workplace. Fresh air circulation in the office space needs to be good enough to ensure this. Fresh air flows need to be at least 10 litres per person per second and humidity levels should be between 40 and 60 per cent.

A good, affordable way of checking whether or not ventilation levels are adequate is by installing a CO2 monitor. If the CO2 levels in your office are above 800 parts per million, it is likely that you’re not getting enough fresh air. Given that the windows don’t open – which is the most effective way of ensuring good fresh air inflow – the employer needs to make sure that the heating, ventilation and air condition [HVAC] system is working properly and is well maintained. The employer needs to make sure that it is bringing in external rather than recycled air.  

Also, under section 22 of the OHS Act  it is the employer’s duty to employ experts, so far as is reasonably practicable, to monitor the conditions of the workplace to ensure they are safe for workers. If you believe your office’s ventilation is not up to scratch due to windows that can’t open, the employer may need to have experts come in to provide advice and recommendations. If the HVAC system is unable to ensure proper ventilation, either the employer OR the person with management and control of the workplace may have to invest in a high efficiency particulate absorbing [HEPA] filter. For information on the best HEPA filters, see this page.  Finally, windows are important in maintaining a safe office temperature too. See this page for guidelines around maintaining a comfortable office temperature. More information on ventilation.  

In this situation, where the warehouse (and office) is being rented by your employer, it may be that there needs to be negotiation and agreement with the owner of the warehouse, who has the ultimate management and control of it, to make the necessary changes/invest in the necessary equipment. It is something that needs to be raised and resolved.

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.  

April 5 VTHC Webinar - Occupational Violence 
If you missed our webinar yesterday on occupational violence & aggression (OVA) in the workplace, then you will be able to watch it on the We Are Union: OHS Reps Facebook page - probably by early next week. Special expert guest was Kathy Chrisfield, from the ANMF who outlined how the union has tackled OVA. 

Asbestos News  
WA: Wittenoom closed but can it ever be cleaned up? 
The state government formally closed the Wittenoom mine last month - but has not announced any rehabilitation plans. According to a mine restoration expert, cleaning up the asbestos in and around it would be one of the biggest and most complex mine site rehabilitations in history and cost more than $100 million. Meanwhile, the traditional owners continue to call for the McGowan government to lead the clean-up and return their country to its original state.

Three million tonnes of asbestos tailings, which litter the 46,000 hectare Wittenoom Asbestos Management Area, have been left behind, now making the site what is believed to be the largest contaminated site in the southern hemisphere. Curtin University's Dr Adam Cross said the financial costs could run in to the hundreds of millions of dollars, but stressed that someone had to take responsibility for cleaning up the area. "We have an implicit requirement to try and return landscapes that we damaged to something like the ecological quality that was there before we impacted upon them."

The country surrounding Wittenoom belongs to the Banjima native title holders of the Pilbara. Banjima elder Maitland Parker said the final closure of the town was "the best news", but his attention had turned to fixing the contamination. The asbestos has prevented Mr Parker from visiting his country around Wittenoom for more than 20 years.  Read more: ABC Online.    

ASEA conference: May 19 - 20 
The Asbestos Safety and Management Conference, is coming up soon: 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 conference will be a hybrid event, offering delegates the opportunity to either attend in-person or livestream the event.  Read more about the conference or to purchase a ticket, go to the conference website.

Britain: More women dying of mesothelioma  
Asbestos is killing more and more women every year. But evidence from the UK's HSE reveals that many are still not aware of the disease and how it can be acquired at work, which means they can be more at risk. According to the latest HSE data, excess deaths – that is higher than average deaths than might be expected – from mesothelioma are found on female death certificates in specific types of jobs: administrators, medical secretaries, teachers and women who work in banks and post offices.

Approximately 5,000 people die every year due to asbestos-related disease in Great Britain. Out of these, 2,369 people died from mesothelioma in 2019 from exposures at work. According to Cancer Research UK, 17 per cent of mesothelioma cases in the UK, on average, are in females, and 83 per cent are in males.

However, female cases of mesothelioma are growing at a faster rate than those in men. The rate of new cases of mesothelioma in females has doubled (97 per cent) HSE says since the early 1990s, but rates in males have increased by about half (51 per cent) in that time. The data for 2019 showed for the first time that male cases dropped by 9 per cent, whereas for women these remained the same. Read more: Clearing the air on asbestos dangers to women. British Safety Council 

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

International Union News 
International Workers Memorial Day around the world 
Work is killing 3 million workers worldwide each year. Sharan Burrow, general secretary of the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) and past president of our own ACTU, says that dying to work must end now, and health and safety must be recognised as a fundamental right for all workers. The figures are frightening: of the 3 million, 400,000 are killed by work-related strokes; 450,000 deaths are caused by work-related chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (asthma, emphysema, and bronchitis); 360,000 die as a result of workplace injuries. Each year there are 374 million work injuries. 

This year, occupational health and safety (OHS) must join freedom from forced and child labour, from discrimination at work, and freedom to join a trade union and bargain collectively as International Labour Organisation (ILO) fundamental rights at work.

There must be no more opposition from callously indifferent employers, or recalcitrant governments. Our right to go to work and come back at the end of the day just as fit and well as we started it must be baked in. Read the full feature in Hazards magazine and ITUC 28 April #iwmd22 webpages

Norway: Benzene risks to offshore workers under-estimated  
The number of workers exposed to the cancer-causing benzene contaminating the muds used in offshore drilling is greatly under-estimated, a union has warned.

Halvor Erikstein, an organisational secretary and occupational hygienist with the Norwegian energy union SAFE, investigated benzene exposures during offshore oil well drilling and found a University of Bergen matrix used to designate exposed jobs “has completely omitted exposure from benzene blending into drilling mud” and during the ‘deaeration’ of systems. This means a wide range of rig jobs are excluded from the at-risk count, including scaffolders, drillers and drill floor crew, mud loggers, derrick workers, turbine operators and hydraulic technicians.

The SAFE report shows that as well as mistaken assumptions about where exposures occur, factors such as humidity have a substantial impact on the effectiveness of respiratory protective equipment, with filters ineffective at high humidity. Exposures to benzene are linked to cancers, blood and neurological disorders and other health effects. Erikstein notes: “This type of exposure has been met with silence by the Norwegian oil industry.” 
Read more: Drilling Mud and Benzene The Elephant in the Room Chemical Environment [PDF of Powerpoint], SAFE, 2022. SummarySource: Risks 1038 

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