Union News

Truck driver killed by falling gate
On Saturday a 59 year old truck driver was killed at a Dandenong South depot. According to preliminary inquiries, the driver was attempting to close a 12-metre wide sliding gate when it came free from its tracks and guarding rails and fell onto him at about 4 o'clock in the morning. 

According to WorkSafe, this latest fatality brings the year's toll to 13.

Everyone at the VTHC sends our sincerest condolences to the family, friends and work colleagues of the deceased worker. No worker should die as a result of work. Every death is preventable. 

Tomorrow, Thursday April 28: International Workers' Memorial Day
This year's international theme is Make safe and healthy work a fundamental right.

This is a reminder of Victorian Trades Hall Council's annual commemoration event to remember those Victorians who lost their lives at work - and to urge all of us to keep fighting to improve health and safety in our workplaces.

Join us in person tomorrow Thursday April 28 for the International Workers' Memorial Day 2022 event. Listen to a couple of guest speakers, participate in a minute of silence at 11 am and then lay flowers and wreaths. The event will also be live-streamed through the Victorian Trades Hall Council Facebook page. 

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  

If you are unable to attend the event, or watch the livestream, we would encourage you and your colleagues to pause work for a moment of silence at 11am. 

Remember the dead, fight like hell for the living. 

IWMD Event Latrobe Valley 
An International Workers Memorial Day Commemoration service is also being held tomorrow in Moe. The event is being jointly conducted by ACV/GARDS and the Gippsland Trades and Labour Council. Reverend Marilyn Obersby will officiate at the Ecumenical Service, and speakers include:

  • Perdita Dickson, WorkSafe (Manager Occupational Health and Operational Programs Prevention, Strategy & Planning Division)
  • Steve Dodd, Secretary of the Gippsland Trades and Labour Council

Singer/musicians Susan Parrish & Patrick Wakefield, "In Harmony", Richard Harris & Co - bagpipers will also be present.

When: Thursday April 28, 11.00 am.
Where: Gippsland Heritage Park, 211 Lloyd St, Moe. 
There will be a free community BBQ at the conclusion of the event - all welcome!

Safety professionals support union campaign 
The Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH), the world’s largest organisation of safety professionals, is supporting the global union campaign for occupational health and safety to be recognised as a fundamental right at work. Commenting ahead of International Workers’ Memorial Day tomorrow, 28 April, organised by the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), IOSH highlighted the global union body’s call to make occupational safety and health (OSH) at work an International Labour Organisation (ILO) fundamental principle and right at work. IOSH’s head of health and safety Ruth Wilkinson said: “At a time when the ongoing universal post Covid-19 recovery effort has highlighted the importance of strengthening the coherence between human rights and OSH standards, IOSH advocates for worker health and safety to be recognised as a fundamental human right.”
Read more: IOSH news release and video promoting OHS as an ILO fundamental right at work. Source: Risks 1041

HSR of the year and other WorkSafe Awards
The WorkSafe Awards were announced last week. All the nominated HSRs of the Year were, of course, union members, because Union HSRs are usually better and more effective HSRs! The most important award is, of course, that of HSR of the Year.

The finalists were: 

  • Adrian Lidsey and Christopher Ball (Crown Melbourne, Southbank) - both members of the United Workers Union (UWU), Adrian and Chris presented to HSRs at the VTHC HSR Conference;
  • Cameron McCormick (University High School, Parkville), who is a member of the Australian Education Union (AEU); and 
  • Alyce Dickson (Barwon Health, Geelong), who is a member of the Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation (ANMF).

And the winners: Adrian Lidsey and Christopher Ball. Crown Casino, their employer, had a legal exemption to allow smoking within parts of the workplace. This meant employees were exposed to the well-known health risks associated with passive smoking. Christopher and Adrian dedicated their time to gathering health and safety concerns and meeting with senior management and government representatives. After years of efforts from successive HSRs, Adrian and Christopher were able to achieve their goal of  finally creating a smoke-free workplace. In their acceptance speech they thanked their members, the union and the VTHC. 

 

This year, WorkSafe awarded their special Lifetime Achievement Award - Outstanding Leadership and Contribution to Health and Safety - to Gwynnyth Evans, a proud Murri woman, for her decades-long career dedicated to improving workplace health and safety. For the past 23 years she has worked one of our most dangerous industries, the meat industry. During her time at the union, she mentored hundreds of health and safety representatives. There is no doubt her work has saved lives. 

Before her time at the AMIEU, Gwynnyth worked at the nurses' union, at the VTHC, and in many community based organisations. 

To find out more about the other winners, check the Regulator News section.  

COVID-19
Update on Restrictions 
The Victorian government announced last week that many restrictions were to be eased as of midnight Friday April 22. Although these were outlined in last week's SafetyNet journal, details were not yet available on the government websites at that time. 

In brief, the changes announced included:

  • Removal of vaccine mandates and check-ins to enter retail and hospitality venues
  • Masks are no longer required in primary schools, early childhood, hospitality and retail settings, or at events of any size
  • Close contacts are no longer required to isolate: but required to wear a mask indoors and avoid sensitive settings; and also have at least five negative rapid antigen tests (RATs) over the seven days that would previously have been the self-quarantine period 
  • All visitor restrictions in hospitals, except for mask requirements, removed. Health services are able to tailor their own settings based on their own circumstances
  • changes to requirements for arriving international travellers.

In relation to workplaces

Workplace contacts: 

  • Individuals are required to notify their workplace contacts, in addition to informing their social contacts.
  • Workplaces do not have to individually identify and notify each potentially exposed worker.
  • It is recommended to work from home if you're a close contact exempt from quarantine.

In addition: 

  • Visitor restrictions in care facilities remain in place to protect the vulnerable
  • Face coverings are still be required on public transport and at airports – excluding airport workers who aren’t public facing – and in sensitive health, aged care and justice settings
  • All workplaces will still require a COVIDSafe Plan

What does this mean for workers and HSRs?

As all workplaces are still required to have a COVIDSafe Plan in place, HSRs need to request a review of their employer's plan, and ensure that they are consulted.

These are some of the questions/issues to raise:

  1. What is the employer going to do about close contacts? 
  2. How will they check who is a close contact? 
  3. How will they ensure that if a close contact comes into work they have done and ‘passed’ the at least five RATs in the period they would have had to isolate? 
  4. Will they be distributing masks and ensuring that all close contacts are wearing masks? 
  5. How will they ensure that the close contacts notify their workplace contacts? If the employee notifies the employer, then it would be more efficient if the employer notifies all the contacts. 
    Other employees at the workplace have a right to know whether they are potentially being exposed. 
  6. And, if at all possible, and it should be for office based workplaces – the employer should continue the current arrangements, to be in line with the recommendation from the government: to continue current arrangements where close contacts of positive cases work from home. 
  7. What measures is the employer implementing/continuing to minimise the risk of employees not contracting the virus from other workers/the general public?

Read more: Victorian government webpage: How we work 

Numbers
There were 10,734 new infections reported today in Victoria - this is once again a high number after far fewer in the past week.

Victorian figures, April 27:

  • 51,835 active cases  (last week 53,518). 
  • 13 deaths reported - a number which is of concern
  • 2,932 COVID-related deaths so far
  • 456 are in hospital, 32 are in ICU, and 8 of these are on ventilators. These numbers have been fairly stable. 
  • 1,532,685 total number of infections since the pandemic began

You can check the Victorian live update here.

Australia wide: there have been a total of 5,756,477 COVID cases (5,494,804 last week) and 7,052 deaths. 

Worldwide:  As of April 27, there had been 510,652,507 worldwide infections (506,029,761 last week). The number of official COVID-related deaths is now 6,248,575. (Source: Worldometer).

By this time, many of us have either had the virus, or have numerous friends, family and work colleagues who have had it. This is a huge difference from the 'early days'. So are we all destined to catch COVID sooner or later? 

Infectious diseases experts say by now most of us have been exposed to the virus, probably countless times. So why have some of us caught it and others not? There are apparently a range of reasons to explain why some of us have not caught a virus that is incredibly infectious. The first of these is vaccination, and three doses in particular. While not a guarantee, vaccination gives an immunity boost that can prevent transmission altogether, as well as doing its key job stopping many people from falling seriously ill or dying. But there are other explanations - some fascinating!
Read more: Is COVID infection inevitable? Sydney Morning HeraldCoronavirus;COVID-19 Victorian situation

Vaccination update 
As of April 26, 83.09 per cent of all Victorians had received their second dose, 85.93 per cent had received their first dose, and 53.49 per cent had their third dose. We are now at a lower rate of vaccination than Australia overall. There are still too few Victorians who have received the third dose, crucial to protect against severe disease. 

Australia wide, by April 26, the figures are 83.66 per cent, 86.67 per cent respectively, with 51.6 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 an HSR and/or worker. It is important to remember that HSRs and 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

Hi Renata,

Is it right for WorkSafe inspectors to meet with my employer without the HSRs being involved, or even informed, of the visit? Are HSRs required to attend the meeting?

As HSRs you are not required to do anything - the OHS Act does not impose any duties on you as HSRs, and your employer cannot impose duties on you as HSRs either.. 

The issue, however, is that you have a right to attend any meetings the employer has with WorkSafe - or vice versa. 

In addition  to this, WorkSafe inspectors have a duty to notify both the employer and any HSRs of the DWGs when entering the workplace as set out in s102 of the OHS Act: Announcement on entry

Immediately upon entering a workplace, an inspector must take all reasonable steps to notify, and show the identity card to, the occupier of the workplace and, if members of any DWG are affected in any way by the entry, the health and safety rep(s) for those DWGs. However, the inspector is not required to notify if doing so would defeat the purpose of the entry or cause unreasonable delay.

With regard to whether there is a policy as well - take a look at this WorkSafe document (which has very useful information that HSRs can rely on): How inspectors deal with specific issues: A guide for workplaces.

Both WorkSafe and unions have a very clear expectation that WorkSafe inspectors will NOT just meet with management. If this is what has occurred, then either contact your union organiser to raise the matter with WorkSafe and make a complaint or contact WorkSafe yourself to complain and request the inspectors to return to the workplace and this time involve the HSRs in whatever discussions/etc took/take place. 

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.  

June 5: ACTU Walk for Safety 
In 2021, 1,500 workers were injured at work every single day. 

194 Australians were killed on the job. That's 194 families who lost a loved one - a father, mother, brother or sister. It's 194 too many.  

Every workplace injury and death is preventable. The ACTU is looking for your help to get that number down to zero by joining the Walk For Safety 2022.

What to do:

  1. Register for Walk For Safety 2022. Get your very own fundraising page to raise funds to support our campaigns for safer workplaces.
  2. Complete the two or four kilometre walk around scenic and historic surrounds of Trades Hall in Carlton.

Every dollar raised will helps the ACTU to continue to organise for safer workplaces and to support injured workers. Find out more

Asbestos News  
Vic: 
Staff, children exposed to asbestos at childcare coop 
Many people, including children and staff at Thornbury’s Yappera Children’s Service Co-Operative reported being in “respiratory distress” after soil was dumped on a construction site ten meters away. The service believes the soil is toxic, containing traces of carcinogens including asbestos, arsenic and nickel. Two children from the service were “wheezing all day,” and were sent home. 

The centre is a short walk from the Aboriginal Advancement League site at Sir Douglas Oval, on which the nation’s first dedicated Aboriginal Women and Girls Sport & Wellness Centre is to be sited. Although excited about the development of the centre, the service now has concerns about asbestos contamination signs on the site fences. 

Yappera CEO has said that Yappera, and the construction site, sit on the site of an old tip. When Yappera underwent its own renovations, staff became aware of the dangers within the soil. Read more: The Sector 

ASEA conference: May 19 - 20 
The Asbestos Safety and Management Conference, is coming up: 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.

International Union news 
Global: Women’s involvement needed to stop gender-based violence in mining 
On April 22, IndustriALL launched the first chapter of its research on gender-based violence and harassment (GBVH), with a summary of the results from the mining sector. The research found that having women in leadership positions is crucial.

The research in the mining sector is based on individual and group interviews with 21 women and two male leaders of IndustriALL-affiliated unions in South Africa (NUM and NUMSA), Colombia (Sintracarbon), and Canada (Unifor and USW).

Sexual harassment and sexual violence are pervasive in the mining sector. Women spoke about the remoteness and relative isolation of mining sites, which makes women more vulnerable to violence. Sexual harassment and sexual assault remain significant concerns for women workers.

Women are also overlooked for promotion, and have undervalued skills and lower earnings compared to men. In addition, women and men work and live in the same communities, making it harder to make complaints against a colleague or a supervisor. Read more: IndustriALL media release 

USA: Amazon ‘injury machine’ twice as dangerous as rivals
While Amazon’s profits have soared in the past year, there has been a sharp rise in injuries among the e-commerce giant's warehouse workers. The company's earnings in the first 12 months of the pandemic exceeded the previous three years combined, with profits jumping from $21.3 billion in 2020 to $33.4 billion in 2021. 

A new report, The Injury Machine: How Amazon's Production System Hurts Workers, reveals a 20 per cent rise in serious injuries in just one year, and an overall injury rate twice that of Amazon’s rivals. The report analyzes new data submitted by Amazon to the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). The report, produced by the four-union coalition the Strategic Organizing Center (SOC), notes: “While shareholders and executives reaped the benefits of the company's soaring stock price, Amazon's aggressive growth has come at a high cost for its workers.” The document adds: “Amazon's high-pressure operations keep resulting in worker injuries in unprecedented numbers, and the situation is worsening.”
Read more: The Injury Machine: How Amazon's Production System Hurts Workers, [pdf] Strategic Organizing Center (SOC), 2022. SOC news release. Common Dreams. Source: Risks 1041 

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