Union News

ASBESTOS NEWS: MR FLUFFY TASKFORCE TO SHUT UP SHOP

First established in 2014, the ACT Government’s Asbestos Response Taskforce will close at the end of the month. Eight years ago the ACT Government embarked on the first step of its $1 billion plan to buy back and demolish all homes contaminated by Mr Fluffy.

Since then, seven previously unknown Mr Fluffy homes have been identified. One was found as late as January this year, while another was discovered in May last year. Both properties had been initially inspected as part of the original Commonwealth Government asbestos removal program which operated between 1989 and 1993.

According to the government, there are still around 20 privately owned homes and a ‘small number’ of properties now owned by the government which are in the process of being demolished. A smaller coordination team will continue to manage those remaining properties.

Last year, the Federal and ACT governments agreed to a $16 million fund to help cover medical expenses for victims of loose-fill asbestos insulation. It was announced just two days before the death of long-time campaigner James Wallner who contracted mesothelioma after growing up in a Mr Fluffy house.

He died ten months after being diagnosed with the disease.

Source: Riotact 21 June 2022

ASK RENATA

My co-worker has raised a concern about one of our science classrooms having no access to fresh air, especially when using gas. They wondered if there is a requirement to have fresh air or some sort of extraction system?

WorkSafe Victoria's Workplace Amenities Code of Compliance is a good place to start for guidance on ventilation. Page 24 explains how your employer can meet their section 21 duty to provide a safe work environment ‘so far as is reasonably practicable’ in relation to ventilation.

You may also find the ventilation page on our website helpful.

Ventilation is also an important consideration in your workplaces’ COVID Safe Plan – see here for more information.

In addition, the Australian Standard relevant to ventilating buildings (AS 1668.2-2012) includes information that in education, the net area of floor for a laboratory per person is 3.5m2 (with a ventilation flow rate of) 10L/s per person, but notes that the presence of gas may trigger additional extraction obligations under other Standards.

Remember, as an HSR you do not need to possess all the answers on how to provide a safe workplace. Once you identify an uncontrolled or inadequately controlled risk and raise it with your employer, it is their job to eliminate or control the risk so far as is reasonably practicable.

Of course, knowing your rights is only half the battle – you’ve got to have the power to enforce your rights.

Check to see if there is an employee-elected health and safety representative (HSR) at your workplace. If there is, then raise the matter with him or her and ask for it to be taken up with the employer representative for safety issues. The employer's nominated representative must then seek to resolve the issue.

If you don’t have a HSR then talk to your fellow workers and set up a meeting with the employer, challenging the status quo and seeking remedy.

See our web page for more helpful information on resolving safety issues in the workplace.

COVID-19 LATEST NUMBERS

On Tuesday 5 July Victoria recorded:

8,740 new daily infections
16 COVID deaths
543 hospitalisations, 28 in ICU and 5 of these on ventilators

Cumulatively this equals:

2,146,523 total Victorian infections
4,009 Victorian COVID deaths (an increase of 127 since last week)

You can check the Victorian live update here.

Australia: As of 5 July, there have been a total of 8,275,606 COVID cases (231,706 since last week) and 10,071 deaths, 211 more than last week.
World: As of 5 July, there had been 555,013,578 worldwide infections (549,539,873 last week). The number of official COVID-related deaths is now  6,362,197 (Source: Worldometer).

Read more: Coronavirus; COVID-19 Victorian situation

VACCINATION UPDATE

83.76% of all Victorians, as of 5 July, have received their second dose, 86.27% their first, and only 55.35% their crucially important third dose.

The figure for all Australians for the same date is 84.36%, 87.01% and 54.09%.

Check the ABC Vaccine tracker and The Age for daily updates.

RAPID ANTIGEN TESTS (RATS) AS A CONTROL MEASURE

The COVIDSafe team at the Victorian Trades Hall Council has been visiting a variety of workplaces in Melbourne and in regional Victoria speaking with workers about COVID safety measures at their workplaces. The team noticed that majority of workplaces don’t provide workers with Rapid Antigen Tests (RATs). In some cases, some workers were bringing RATs from home for themselves or to share with co-workers.

WHY SHOULD RATS BE PROVIDED?

RATs are an important way to prevent COVID cases at work before it turns into an outbreak that may result in staffing shortages or store closures.

Rapid antigen tests are of the most effective ways of managing the risk of COVID-19 in the workplace, as it can assist to eliminate the risk of an outbreak before it occurs (it allows workers to quickly know if they are infectious and either not attend the workplace, or immediately leave).

RATs are less accurate than polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests but are much more accessible - especially if you are testing at work. They can be done on site, during paid time, and are relatively inexpensive for the employer.

It is a health & safety duty of all employers in Victoria to maintain as far as is reasonably practicable a safe and healthy workplace, including from COVID-19, and rapid antigen tests are one relatively affordable way for employers to help provide this. For more about RAT’s  (click here).

CONVERSATIONS WITH YOUR EMPLOYER

We encourage health and safety representatives (HSRs) and workers to speak with their employer about providing RATs at the workplace. It might be easier if you approach it with the angle that by keeping workers from getting COVID, it minimises the risk of there being an outbreak at the workplace and therefore any staffing shortages. Staffing shortages can lead to the workplace having to temporarily close, which is obviously not going to be a good outcome for the business!

You might also consider doing a petition within your workplace to request RATs from the employer. A petition is useful in that it shows employers that an issue affects multiple people in the workplace.

Health and safety representatives (HSRs) have the power to introduce effective controls for COVID-19 such as a RAT program by:

  • Checking there is a risk assessment for COVID-19
  • Reviewing and evaluating the risk assessment and the controls for COVID-19
  • Requesting a RAT program to be added to the controls for COVID-19
  • Implementing the RAT program
  • Using Provisional Improvement Notices (PIN) if necessary

For more information visit our website (click here).

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