The Department of Education and Communities (DEC) has agreed to update work health and safety procedures dealing with risks associated with violent behaviour, and a longer-term review of the policies, work health and safety information and other support aimed at minimising these risks.
DEC’s agreement to the review follows Federation’s call for the DEC to conduct an extensive review of the effectiveness of the strategies, policies, procedures and resources available to manage the risks associated with violent student behaviour. Teachers are concerned about the physical and psychological injuries that have occurred as a result of the Department’s failure to implement effective systems to minimise the risks posed by these behaviours.
Teachers are concerned that many students exhibiting these behaviours require significant additional support to address both their learning needs and behaviour.
At a meeting on June 13, Federation pointed out that the work, health and safety risk management procedures available on the Department’s website outline how schools can access support. However, the regional and other support staff listed no longer exist as a result of the ongoing restructures.
The Department agreed on the need for an urgent update to these procedures which will identify the support available to schools. In terms of risk management the Department indicated that 32 work health and safety consultants, learning engagement advisers and learning engagement officers are available to provide support to schools.
Perhaps more importantly the new Work Health and Safety Issue resolution procedures provide a clear method and timeframe for schools to access support for work health and safety issues including violent behaviour. These procedures state: “A matter concerning workplace risks/hazards/risk management becomes an issue if the matter is not resolved locally after discussions between employees and others undertaking work and workplace managers”.
The first step in the process is for the “issue” to be notified to the principal by an employee either through the health and safety representative, through a Work Health and Safety Committee or directly to a supervisor or the principal. An “issue resolution notice” is available and allows staff to identify the issue and the preferred resolution.
Once notified the workplace manager or delegate uses the school’s consultation arrangement which may be the Health and Safety Representative (HSR) or Work Health and Safety Committee to discuss a resolution and take any necessary temporary measures. These measures may include suspension. There is a timeframe of up to five days to resolve the issue. If the school has insufficient resources, training or other support to resolve the issue it must be escalated. This can occur as soon as it is apparent that the issue cannot be resolved within the school.
If the “issue” cannot be resolved in that time or the principal believes there is insufficient support or resources at the school to deal with the risks the issue should be escalated. This means that the issue must be reported using the incident and injury hotline on 1800 811 523 or by fax to the Injury Management Centre on (02) 9707 6233. This notification is then referred to the Work Health and Safety Directorate, and the relevant senior manager/Director/Director of Public Schools and relevant senior officers who will “work with all parties to resolve the issue as soon as possible but at the latest within 10 working days”.
The issue resolution procedure states that “issues are resolved when there is an agreement on actions or controls to minimise or eliminate risks to be undertaken within an agreed timeframe”. The notification of the issues to these directors and senior officers is important. These officers have a duty under the Work Health and Safety Act to ensure that the Department complies with these duties. This means that officers must take reasonable steps to ensure the allocation of appropriate resources to eliminate or minimise risks to employees and others so far as is reasonably practicable.
Federation argued that in order to effectively resolve issues about minimising the risks of violent student behaviour the initial revision of the existing information needs to be followed up by a comprehensive review of the existing practice. The Department agreed and will consult with Federation during the course of the review.
If members are concerned that risks associated with violent student behaviour are not being effectively addressed they should contact their Organiser.