The Australian Workers Union has spoken out about the standards of personal protective equipment available to workers at Alcoa’s aluminium smelter in Portland, Victoria after it was revealed that workers are likely to be unable to access essential helmets following the particular product being discontinued as the COVID-19 situation continues to affect supply chains.
The helmet in question, the Racal 3M Airstream, provides critical health and safety standards of protection and offers respiratory protection for workers wearing it.
The issue lies in a lack of the product on hand at the smelter and the efficacy of any potential replacement pieces. While the AWU is seeking to obtain information as to the provision of the equipment, the union says that the responsibility to protect workers and provide a safe work environment lies with Alcoa.
Several other smelters across Australia have taken steps to stockpile and preorder the item prior to the discontinuation.
“Worker health and safety will always be a key priority for the AWU and nowhere is this more important than in the provision of the best possible personal protective gear,” said AWU Assistant National Secretary Misha Zelinsky.
“Alcoa should not have left this to the last minute and should have adequate replacements already locked in. We need Alcoa to undertake rigorous trials to ensure any alternative does the same, or a better job, than the 3M helmet which is being discontinued.”
The AWU Branch Secretary for Victoria explained that the company’s failure to secure supplies of PPE went against all the efforts implemented to ensure workplace safety in the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We are in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis with already heightened fear over staying safe in the workplace and it’s vital Alcoa provides assurances for our members as soon as possible. AWU members want to know they’ll be safe at work, pure and simple.”