Fixing health and safety risks

Joan Lemaire
Senior Vice President

The Department of Education and Communities’ new Work Health and Safety Issue Resolution Procedures provide a clear process for more timely resolution of workplace risks and hazards.

The procedures were issued last year but members might not be aware of them, possibly due to a lack of training.

Federation was consulted in the development of the procedures. During the discussions Federation highlighted that many schools and colleges do not have sufficient resources including funds, training for staff and knowledge or expertise to minimise or eliminate workplace risks and hazards. The Department’s Work Health and Safety Policy and these procedures allow these matters to be referred to more senior management so that appropriate action can be taken.

If a workplace risk or hazard cannot be “resolved locally after discussions between employees and others undertaking work and workplace managers” it becomes an “issue”. The workplace manager must then use the agreed workplace consultation arrangements to resolve the issue, if possible within five working days. The consultation may be with the Health and Safety Representative (HSR) and/or the Work Health and Safety Committee.

An example of an “issue” might be the collapse of a retaining wall in the playground creating risks associated with trips and falls, and/or students playing with or throwing bricks, stones or dirt from the wall around the playground and at other students. The first step is to notify the principal about the collapsed wall. The principal will discuss the matter, according to the consultation requirements, with the HSR and/or Work Health and Safety Committee along with relevant staff.

If the discussion identifies there are inadequate funds to fix the wall, action will need to be taken to prevent students and others from being harmed.

The principal, consistent with the Work Health and Safety Issue Resolution Procedures, will notify the collapse and the fact that it is an “issue” which needs resolution, to the Incident and Injury Hotline, the Work Health and Safety Directorate, and the relevant senior manager. There are 10 working days for the Work Health and Safety directorate and/or the Director of Schools to support the school in eliminating or minimising the risks associated with the collapse. The HSR and Work Health and Safety Committee will be consulted.

If there is no agreement about how the risks associated with the issue can be minimised, or about the timeframe for dealing with the risk then it can be referred to WorkCover. Importantly, the Department cannot simply decide a work health and safety issue is resolved. The procedures state: “Issues are resolved when there is agreement on actions and controls to minimise or eliminate risks to be undertaken in an agreed timeframe.”

Members may seek advice from their local Federation Organiser at any time and might want assistance if the issue is not being dealt with according to the procedures.