Associations address WHS and work overload

Guidelines can be used to manage and prevent stress

Debbie Westacott
Country Organiser

Joan Lemaire (second from right) addresses Wyong TA.

Despite the Department stating its "commitment to identification, prevention and management of the causes of occupational stress" it requires the implementation of many policies and procedures without effective training, support and resources, creating excessive demands for schools to manage.

Wyong, Woy Woy and Gosford teachers associations invited Federation Senior Vice President Joan Lemaire to attend their September meetings to discuss work overload and stress from a work health and safety perspective.

Teachers, executives and principals discussed the multiple, cumulative and often competing demands placed on schools that can contribute to work overload and stress. Cuts to support for schools mean implementation of many policies, procedures and new syllabuses create significant work demands.

The Central Coast associations considered how Federation Representatives and Workplace Committees could utilise the Department's work health and safety information on occupational stress to prevent and manage risks associated with work overload.

The first step is to identify risk factors associated with work practices and systems of work that are possible causes of workplace stress. The Department's examples include pressure in meeting deadlines, high physical, cognitive and emotional demands, work overload, long and unsocial hours, level of participation in decision making mechanisms for communication, and implementing new technology.

The three associations identified key stressors were tasks and meetings which involved considerable time, paperwork and energy but did not contribute to support for students and their learning. One example was the number, length, structure and purpose of before, during and after school meetings. Teachers recognised the need for meetings to allow for communication and collaborative decision making. It was clear, however, that holding too many meetings without a specified purpose, negotiated agenda and timeframe contributed to work overload.

Another factor was the multiplicity and complexity of "paperwork" required in terms of data collection, assessment and reporting, student welfare and discipline. Again teachers recognised the need for record keeping and administrative work but many felt that the time spent on some of these tasks failed to support either teaching or learning.

Erina Heights Public School Federation Representative Dale Stahl summed up the need to consider the impact of work overload on teachers, executives and principals: "As the greatest factor on student learning outside of the home, happy, safe, secure staff means happy, safe, secure students achieving greater learning."

Federation sought feedback from the three associations on guidance and training material that is being developed to assist Workplace Committees to pursue the risks associated with work overload.

The union will continue to pursue the need for the Department to consider the implications of systems level requirements which contribute to work overload.