Cuts to cleaning hours raise WHS concerns

Joan Lemaire
Senior Vice President

Federation Council has again raised concerns about the impact of cuts to school cleaners’ hours on the cleanliness and hygiene in schools.

Councillors reported that despite the best efforts of cleaners, there is insufficient time allocated to complete essential day to day cleaning.

United Voice, the school cleaners union, is conducting a Clean Schools Campaign (www.cleanschools.org.au) in response to the NSW Government’s decision to cut the cleaning budget of NSW Public schools each year until 2016. Some schools have already had cleaning hours cut, and cuts are proposed for a range of other schools.

Federation urges teachers, executives and principals to support the Clean Schools Campaign.

Unclean and/ or unhygienic conditions can result in illness or injury. It is important that any risks to the health and safety of students and staff posed by unclean or unhygienic learning and working conditions are identified as work health and safety issues. This means that the risks posed by these conditions must be controlled or eliminated so far as reasonably practicable.

The Department’s Work Health and Safety issue resolution procedures provide a process to follow in terms of raising any health and safety issues for resolution within the school.

The first step is to raise the issue with the principal or supervisor, or through the Work Health and Safety Committee and/ or for Health and Safety Representative. Temporary measures to address the issue may be taken if required and the principal will use the agreed consultation process to try and resolve the issue. This should be done within five working days.

If the issue cannot be resolved within this time it must be escalated by the principal notifying the Incident and Injury Hotline 1800 811 523. The Department’s procedure states: “The issue should be escalated sooner than the prescribed maximum time when knowledge, training or resources are not sufficient for resolving the issue and hence minimising or eliminating the risk so far as is reasonably practicable.”

The procedure also makes it clear that a resolution cannot simply be imposed by stating “issues are resolved when there is agreement on the actions and controls to minimise or eliminate the risks to be undertaken within an agreed timeframe.” If no agreement is reached the issue can be referred to WorkCover.

Members who are concerned about risks posed by unclean or unhygienic learning and working conditions should discuss the risks with the Fed Rep and/or Workplace Committee who can contact the local Federation Organiser for advice and consultation.

The union’s Work Health and Safety Bulletin 3 provides a brief explanation of the Department’s issue resolution procedures. The procedures are available through the Department’s portal.