Claims show lack of workplace safety

Joan Lemaire
Senior Vice President

Workplace Committees must be vigilant about acting on rising psychological injury among teachers

The Audit Office of NSW has reported a 36 per cent increase in costs of workers compensation claims in the period 2015-2016. Psychological injury claims have increased by 32.5 per cent and the overall cost of these claims have increased by 71 per cent. The findings show a 33.9 per cent increase in claims citing violence, bullying and harassment as the cause of injury.

These findings demonstrate the Department’s failure to provide safe and healthy work environments. Many members are not aware that if work health and safety problems cannot be addressed within a school due to lack of resources or other factors the safety concerns can be pursued with the Department using their “Work Health and Safety Issue Resolution Procedures”.

These procedures set out particular timeframes for resolving the issue and ensure that if the “issue” cannot be resolved within the workplace it should be escalated through an “issue resolution notice” so that the WHS Directorate and the relevant Senior Manager/Director/Director of Public Schools and relevant Senior Officers receive notification and work with all parties but at the latest within 10 working days (Department WHS Issue Resolution procedure,
page 6). If the issue remains unresolved it may be pursued with Safe Work NSW.

These procedures are available on the Department’s intranet. The NSWTF “Work Health and Safety Bulletin 3” summarises the procedures.

Given the significant increase in psychological injuries it is important that Federation Workplace Committees working with Work Health and Safety Committees consider the impact of work-related (or occupational) stress in the workplace.

The Department’s Work Health and Safety Directorate has produced a number of documents related to occupational stress. “Guidance in completing the risk management pro forma – occupational stress” identifies the following topics with a list of hazards that could pose a risk:

  • “workplace premises and the physical environment” includes “poor environmental conditions, security when staff work alone or after hours”
  • “work practices” includes “demands of work, pressure in meeting deadlines, work overload, long or unsocial hours”
  • “systems of work” includes “mechanisms for communication and consultation, level of participation in decision-making, implementing new technologies”
  • “workplace relations” includes “supervision and support practices, work expectation and roles, bullying, harassment or discrimination”
  • “threat of harm” includes “exposure to difficult clients, exposure to violence”
  • “people” includes “resilience, attitudes, experience and training”.

Workplace Committees could discuss these issues with staff and identify one or a number of hazards that pose a medium to high level of risk. Discussion should occur at a school level about how these risks could be minimised. If a school needs additional support or resources to minimise the risks, members may decide that the matter should be dealt with as a Work Health and Safety Issue using the Department’s procedures.

The Federation’s Work Health and Safety Bulletin on these procedures will be reissued to assist Federation Representatives and Workplace Committees. Utilising these procedures ensures that the Department is alerted to the hazard and takes action in consultation with school staff to resolve the issue consistent with the requirements of the Work Health and Safety Act.

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