SafetyNet 395

SafetyNet 395

SafetyNet 395, March 1, 2017

It's been a bad week for Australia's lowest paid workers - those whose wages will be cut are also likely to have poorer health and safety outcomes. 

We must keep up the fight to make our workplaces as safe as possible: 'like' our We Are Union: OHS Matters Facebook page, and for those who are HSRs and/or passionate about health and safety, join the Network page, a safe place to raise and discuss issues: check it out and ask to join.

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Cut in penalty rates will affect OHS
There has been much discussion this week of the Fair Work Commission's decision to cut Sunday penalty rates for workers in the hospitality and retail industries. The decision was made despite the fact that labour costs fell substantially in 2016 and productivity improved significantly, according to ABS national accounts data released this week. Company profits have increased by a massive 20.1 per cent, while wages and salaries have decreased by 0.5 per cent. When the penalty rates are cut, some workers could lose more than $75 per week.

The effect of this on workers who are among the lowest paid will be devastating - and this will increase any stress they are already under. Increased stress can lead to increased incidents in the workplace, increased incidence of disease (such as hypertension, heart attacks) and increased mental health issues, such as depression, anxiety and so on. Read more: Stress

VTHC welcomes Vic Govt commitment to Common Law rights
At this week's announcement of WorkSafe Victoria's mid-financial year results, the Minister for Finance, the Honorable Robin Scott emphasized the Victorian Government's commitment to continuing to provide common law rights to all Victorians. He added it would be seeking nominations from representative bodies for a new Working Group, established to examine issues around lodgement of common law claims and costs and report to the Board by September of this year. 

Dr Paul Sutton, OHS lead organiser at the VTHC OHS Unit, said: "Common law claims exist to ensure that those workers who suffer terrible, debilitating illnesses and injuries at work are looked after for the rest of their lives. Common law claims prevent injured workers from having to exist purely on welfare and provide dignity into old age. Any attack on common law claims is an attack on injured workers. VTHC welcomes the news that the Victorian Government and Minister Scott stand by common law claims."

VWA Board Chairman, Mr Paul Barker, had told a large group of stakeholder that the scheme is continuing to be financially viable at the same time as a 'substantial' drop in the number of injuries and that the regulator would be focussing on being a 'preventative-led organisation.'

However, although the overall number of claims per million hours worked had dropped in Victoria, VWA's Chief Executive Officer, Ms Clare Amies reported that the number of long term (>4 weeks) claims had increased, as had the number of workers not yet back at work six months after their injuries, and that there had been an increase in mental injury claims across government. In other words, while there had been some improvements, there were still areas where there was work to do.

The 2030 Strategy, currently being developed, will:

  • be 'prevention-led',
  • focus on the needs of workers and employers,
  • seek to offer tailored products, services and support,
  • improve the use of analytics and data, and
  • simplify WorkSafe's business

However, the 2030 Strategy will not change its role as regulator. 

For fewer workers to be injured in the first place, WorkSafe must increase its compliance and enforcement activities, provide more support to HSRs and ensure that employers comply with their duties under the law, including the duty to consult.

HSRs current and former - send in your win stories
We all know how much HSRs achieve in the workplace representing their DWGs and making sure their employers take action to make the workplace healthier and safer.  Too often their achievements and efforst are not recognised; in fact, often they end up in the firing line. So if you have a story, or if you think your HSR deserves to be recognised, participate in our HSR Hero project. Click here to submit your story online. Nothing will be published (either online or in hard copy) without prior permission - and yes, it's possible to remain anonymous. Here's a good one:

HSR Reps win: Electrical shocks
This week the unit received a union delegates' worksite newsletter, done by them to keep members informed. In it was a great example of how important HSRs are. Here it is (with minor edits to de-identify the workplace):

"Over the past few weeks there have been multiple electrical problems and electric shocks in a section of the assembly line. Unfortunately the issue wasn't addressed as promptly as we all would have liked but Thanks to two HSRs reps and their persistence, production came to a standstill one day last week, and a safety sweep was performed. The findings from this sweep were: a number of damaged cords and all terminals were replaced and wiring has been now checked. Further, the sweep is to be conducted site-wide to prevent this occurring again. If you notice a computer with damaged cords please inform your HSR so it can be locked out immediately!"

Well done to all the HSRs at this manufacturing site!

Ask Renata
Shouldn't my place of work (a factory) have a refrigerator or cooler in the break room? Is it unhealthy and risky for the employees to eat perishable foods that have been sitting at room temperature (in summer especially) for more than 4hrs? !

You are correct – under s21 of the Victorian OHS Act (2004), your employer has a general duty of care to provide and maintain for employees a working environment that is safe and without risks to health. This includes providing adequate facilities for the welfare of employees.

While the Act is not more specific, the Compliance Code for Workplace Amenities and Work Environment sets out what employers need to do as a minimum (but qualified by 'so far as is reasonably practicable') to comply with this duty. The Code is more than simply 'guidance' and employers should comply.

As a minimum workers must have somewhere to have their meals and breaks, and somewhere to store food and boil water. "This needs to include a refrigerator big enough to store perishable foods for all employees using the facilities." See this page on our site for more information. Read through and you'll see that your employer is actually breaking the law.

I recommend that your HSR take this up with your employer - if he or she doesn't get anywhere, then the next step is to issue a PIN.

Please send any OHS related queries in to Ask Renata - your query will be responded to as quickly as we can – usually within a couple of days. 

Australia Post rally - justice demanded for injured workers
This week members of the Injured Workers Support Network Victoria staged a rally and demonstration outside the Australia Post Office in Melbourne's CBD. Australia Post is a self insurer that has been rewarding its executives for delaying or intimidating workers out of making workers compensation claims.
They also have some of the worst behaviour-based safety policies we've seen. The CEO of Australia Post was paid $5.6 million of taxpayers' money a year while they made the workers they injured wait for medical treatment to make their books look better so that management can get fat bonus cheques.

Injured workers 'mailed' Australia Post a post-card demanding to fair treatment. Sign the petition and tell Australia Post to treat injured workers with dignity and respect!
Read more: Australia Post grilled on allegations of rorting workers' injury claims for bonuses Sydney Morning Herald

Asbestos News
Family sues operators of Wunderlich factory
69 year old Samual Azzopardi died of mesothelioma in February last year, and now his family is suing the operators of the former Wunderlich cement factory where his father Charlie used to work. His His father used to come home covered in dust and fibres from his job, exposing his family to asbestos. Mr Azzopardi was also exposed to asbestos a second time when he used Wunderlich's asbestos cement sheets to renovate his parents' bungalow, according to Michael Wilson QC address to the Victorian Supreme Court on Monday. His widow is suing Wunderlich operators Seltsam Pty Ltd for loss and damages that their alleged negligence caused her husband's estate. News came in today that the company and family settled out of court yesterday
Read more: Vic company sued over asbestos death, news.com.au; Asbestos victim's family settle lawsuit, Yahoo7 News

Cambodia: Ministry to examine asbestos
The Cambodian Ministry of Labour last Thursday announced the formation of a new working group tasked with gathering data on the precise prevalence of asbestos and its adverse effects in the Kingdom. Minister Ith Sam Heng said the group would be compiling data to prepare a national action plan and an effective prevention program on the risks of asbestos.

Dr Leng Tong, director of the ministry's Department of Occupational Safety and Health, said the group will gather information on asbestos products imported to the Kingdom and how many workers fall ill due to asbestos. It will also receive training from other countries, such as Australia, which has banned the use of asbestos.  Source: The Phnom Penh Post

Asbestoswise support groups
Victorian asbestos diseases support and advocacy group Asbestoswise has many years of experience providing support to workers and families.  The organisation holds regular Support Group meetings. The next Mesothelioma Support Group meeting will be held on Wednesday February 15, 11am - 2pm, at the South Melbourne Community Centre, Cnr Park St and Ferrars Place, Sth Melbourne. The group provides support to those diagnosed with mesothelioma, their carers, families and close friends. It meets the third Wednesday of every month. Asbestoswise also holds a Bereaved Group which meets monthly. More information, contact: Shirley Bare by phone 0412 537 819 or by email

Read more on Asbestos in the home and Asbestos in the workplace

April 28, 2017: International Workers' Memorial Day 
Since unions first commemorated it in Canada in the 1980s, International Workers Memorial Day on 28 April has become a global day of remembrance and action for workers killed, disabled, injured or made unwell by their work.

Globally, the International Labour Organisation estimates that 2.34 million people die each year from work-related accidents and diseases. From these fatalities, the majority or 2.02 million are from occupational and work-related diseases. Hazardous substances kill 440,000 workers annually – asbestos claims 100,000 lives.

In 2017 the international theme for the day is 'Good health and safety for all workers whoever they are' and will focus on inequalities in occupational health and the role unions play in narrowing the inequalities gap. There are ideas and resources, including a terrific poster which can be downloaded from the International  Workers' Memorial Day website. The day is also remembered by governments and other organisations such as the ILO - but for us it is and will always be a day for unionists to remember the dead and fight for the living.

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