Union News

Ombudsman investigation into WorkCover Self-Insurers 

In Victoria most employers engage an insurance company ("authorised agents”) to manage their WorkCover liabilities. There is however an ability for employers to self-insure, that is manage their liabilities internally. Practically this option is used almost exclusively by large employers with the benefit of scale. Currently there are 34 self-insurers operating in Victoria, representing about 5% of total scheme remuneration. 

In 2016 and 2019 the Ombudsman conducted an investigation into the claims management practices and oversight of authorised agents but self insurers slipped under the radar. These investigations resulted in an Independent Review and the Government committing to reform. 

Last week the Ombudsman announced an investigation into the claims process conducted by self-insurers, and WorkSafe’s oversight role of them. This investigation was launched after the Ombudsman received multiple complaints and submissions from injured workers spotlighting concerns with the way self-insurers claims are being managed and lack of access to independent review of decision making when compared to decisions made by authorised agents. Other complaints were made about WorkSafe’s weak supervision of self-insurers. 

The announcement stated that the investigation will consider: 

  • If the self-insurers’ management of claims are fair and provide just outcomes for their injured workers.   
  • Whether or not WorkSafe's oversight processes help provide fair and just outcomes for injured workers under the self-insurer scheme.   

The Ombudsman is also interested in self-insurers best practices in managing injured workers claims. They would like to hear different experiences from injured workers, former workers of self-insurers or anyone that provides aid to injured workers including unions, lawyers and doctors. 

Source: New Ombudsman investigation into WorkSafe self-insurers 

SILICA NEWS: Silica at work could be linked to thousands of deaths 

A new study from Curtin University projects up to 10,000 Australians will develop lung cancer from workplace exposure to silica dust. The study recommends banning the use of artificial stone for kitchen benchtops to save workers’ lives. 

Roughly 500 Australians are currently diagnosed with silicosis, and almost all were diagnosed during the past three years and clearly linked to stonemasonry, however this number is set to be an underestimate as many workers have not yet been diagnosed.  

The recent increase of cases was linked to the high demand of engineered stone for kitchen benchtops. Experts along with workers in several industries have asked the new federal government to use its powers and introduce tougher national regulations to minimise the associated harm with working with silica dust.   

The process to ban importing some or all engineered stone goods is set to start by July 2024 as recommended by The National Dust Disease Taskforce. 

Source: ABC News - Curtin University study predicts workplace silica exposure could cause 10,000 Australians to develop lung cancer 

 

ASK RENATA 

Hi, I would like to know whether dust is classified as a hazardous substance? If dust exposure lead to someone falling ill, would it be considered a notifiable incident under the OHS Act? 

What is a ‘substance’? 

A hazardous substance is anything that is considered harmful and listed on the Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals (GHS). The hazards associated with substances are usually physical or health hazards. 

Is ‘dust’ a hazardous substance? 

Dust may not be considered a hazardous substance unless it is listed on the GHS. Dust only falls under this category if it is a dust of something that is already considered a substance, e.g., silica dust or lead dust. Some hazardous substances may also be harmless unless they are in the form of airborne dust. 

That being said, it is important to remember that all airborne dust is considered a health hazard. This includes all types of dust that you come across at work including wood dust, airborne dirt, and general dust around that may contain dust mites, pollen, dirt, and so on. Dust that are larger particles and fall to the floor may not be a health hazard unless disturbed. Smaller dust particles may be a health hazard since they are airborne and can be inhaled. The health effects of exposure can take years to develop. WorkSafe Victoria produces some useful information on exposure standards and atmospheric monitoring here. 

Is illness from dust a notifiable incident? 

Whether illness from dust is reportable as a notifiable incident depends on how serious the illness is. Under s38 of the OHS Act 2004, your employer must notify WorkSafe Victoria if someone dies, becomes seriously ill or injured, or if there was a dangerous incident. For example, if a worker has asthma and inhales dust particles at work that triggers a serious asthma attack requiring medical attention within 48 hours, then that is a notifiable incident under s37 of the Act. It is also reportable if an incident exposes a person to a serious risk to their health or safety emanating from an immediate or imminent exposure to an uncontrolled escape, spillage or leakage of any substance, including dangerous goods within the meaning of the Dangerous Goods Act 1985. This would include for example exposure to zinc or arsenical dust. 

All other work-related illnesses should be reported to your employer. 

 

COVID-19 LATEST NUMBERS 

On Tuesday 19 July Victoria recorded: 

12,201 new daily infections  
25 COVID deaths 
897 hospitalisations, 34 in ICU and 11 of these on ventilators 

Cumulatively this equals: 

2,287,325 total Victorian infections 
4,215 Victorian COVID deaths (an increase of 124 since last week) 

You can check the Victorian live update here. 

Australia: As of 19 July, there have been a total of 8,516,847 COVID cases (an increase of 322,240 since last week) and 10,770 deaths, an increase of 444 since last week. 

World: As of 19 July, there had been 561,388,387 worldwide infections (555,013,578 last week). The number of official COVID-related deaths is now 6,374,317 (Source: Worldometer). 

Read more: Coronavirus; COVID-19 Victorian situation 

VACCINATION UPDATE 

As of 18 July, 83.86% of all Victorians have received their second dose, 86.34% their first, and only 55.66% for their crucially important third dose. 

The figure for all Australians for the same date is 84.50%, 87.10% and 54.50%. 

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

COVID-19 News: Return of Pandemic Disaster Leave Payment 

Over the weekend, the Federal Government announced that the $750 pandemic disaster leave payment has been reinstated until 30 September 2022 and backdated to 1 July 2022. 

This ensures that workers who are sick with COVID-19, or required to isolate as a close contact in accordance with State Government rules, are able to access some assistance whilst they are unable to work. 

Unions have welcomed the reintroduction of the payments but argue more still needs to be done to ensure workers don’t have to choose between getting paid or getting better. In a statement to the Guardian, ACTU assistant secretary, Liam O’Brien said “It’s not just casual workers who need paid pandemic leave, it’s the hundreds of thousands of workers who are out of sick leave too.” We hope that both state and federal governments continue doing more to ensure that workers who are sick can stay home and get better without losing income. 

Source: The Guardian - Albanese to restore Covid leave payment as emergency national cabinet meeting called, National Cabinet Statement.  

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