SafeWork takes action

Joan Lemaire
Senior Vice President

Federation has commenced discussions with SafeWork NSW regarding the Work Health and Safety Road Map for NSW. The Road Map outlines a number of key priorities aimed at reducing fatalities, serious injuries and illnesses in NSW by 30 per cent in 2022.

The Road Map identifies psychological injury and illness in the workplace as one of the focus areas. Work is underway on the “Mentally Healthy Workplaces Strategy”, which will consider psychosocial risk factors including workplace violence, workplace bullying as well as mental health promotion in terms of injury reduction.

Importantly, SafeWork NSW will be increasing resources and support available to deal with psychosocial risks. This means more direct support and advice for workplaces.

Teachers, executives and principals have identified work overload and work intensification as psychological risk factors along with workplace violence and/or bullying. The results of the Public Service Commission’s People Matter Survey 2016 indicate most teachers experience an unacceptable level of work-related stress.

Federation has repeatedly requested that the Department identify the policies and procedures that are in place to prevent, minimise and/or eliminate the psychosocial risks which contribute to work-related stress. To date, the Department has provided only the material related to “Respectful Workplaces” and the Complaints-Handling Policy and Procedures (which are being rewritten).

Federation will bring together information about work-related stress and psychosocial risks from SafeWork NSW and other relevant authorities in order to provide advice to members about dealing with stress as a work health and safety issue.

Federation will continue discussions with SafeWork NSW around the “Mentally Healthy Workplaces Strategy” and the role of SafeWork staff, including inspectors, in terms of compliance with the duties under the Work Health and Safety Act. Reports will be provided on the strategy as it is developed and implemented.

Consistent with Annual Conference policy, Federation will undertake a work-related stress survey to identify risk factors and inform the development of recommendations aimed at creating safer workplaces.

What is work stress?

SafeWork NSW defines work-related stress in the following way: “Work-related stress describes the physical, mental and emotional reactions of workers who perceive that their work demands exceed their abilities and/or their resources (such as time, help/support) to do the work. It occurs when they perceive they are not coping in situations where it is important to them that they cope."

"While stress itself is not a disease, if it becomes excessive and long-lasting it can lead to mental and physical ill-health,” SafeWork NSW states.

It is important that members use the Department’s Incident and Injury Hotline to report incidents and/or behaviours that impact on their physical and/or psychological safety. This means follow-up action should be taken to minimise the risks identified in the report so that further injury is prevented.

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Rising stress levels among principals has prompted renewed calls from the Australian Education Union for governments to properly resource schools.

The Australian Principal Occupational Health, Safety and Wellbeing Survey released by Teachers Health Fund reports the main cause of rising stress levels for principals is the “sheer quantity of administrative work” plus a lack of time to focus on teaching and learning.

Federation President Maurie Mulheron said the survey results expose the reality of “principal autonomy”.

“Devolving responsibilities to principals under Local Schools, Local Decisions has been a key factor in their increasing workloads,” he said.

AEU Federal President Correna Haythorpe said: “[W]e can reduce some of this stress by making sure all schools have the resources they need.”

The AEU’s 2016 State of Our Schools Survey found 45 per cent of principals said their school was under-resourced or significantly under-resourced, and 48 per cent struggled to fill staff vacancies.

Kerri Carr