Occupational violence: never part of your job!
Queensland Teachers' Journal, Vol 124 No 5, 5 July 2019, page no. 14
On Thursday 21 March, the ACT Education Directorate hosted a national forum to address the issue of occupational violence in schools.
The forum, which was attended by President Kevin Bates, Elissa Ferguson (Metropolitan West Logan Organiser) and myself on behalf of the QTU, was very worthwhile. It was not, however, the proactive step of a government acting with foresight. It was one of many strategies contained in an enforceable undertaking issued by the regulator, WorkSafe ACT, to the ACT Education Directorate on 28 September 2018. As part of the enforceable undertaking, the ACTU Education Directorate had to “commit to implementing strategies that would deliver industry benefits”.
The enforceable undertaking proposal is published on the WorkSafe ACT website. It summarises the salient details as: “Between February 2016 and October 2018, the territory did not comply with its primary health and safety duty pursuant to section 19 of the Act as it did not do all that was reasonably practicable to ensure the health and safety of its staff, by:
- applying inconsistent or inadequate controls to workplace hazards associated with student behaviours
- failing to adequately adjust controls following incidents or changes in circumstances
- failing to provide adequate training to staff in the application of controls identified.”
As a result, staff were exposed to a risk of injury, and were in fact injured. The obligations on a person conducting a business or undertaking in workplace health and safety acts, Australia-wide, is to do what is reasonably practicable to ensure the health and safety of staff. The need to address a pattern of incidents is more pressing because now there is information that indicates harm is likely. Just saying this is part of what an early childhood teacher, a special needs teacher or, in many cases, the aides that support us in our work should “put up with” is clearly not acceptable.
The school B case is a case in point. “A teacher was hospitalised following a non-directed kick by a kindergarten aged student (the same student had been identified as being involved in multiple violent incidents through the year).” It was clear that there was a pattern of WHS incidents and clearly a foreseeable risk of harm of injury. The WHS incidents of assault (violence) included bites, scratches, punches and kicks, as well as striking a pregnant teacher’s abdomen."
Noting that WorkSafe ACT’s investigations into the pattern of incidents and the directorate’s responses would have been occurring well before the issuing of the enforceable undertaking in September 2018, the Department of Education Queensland developed, consulted on and then released (23 October 2018) the Occupational Violence Prevention Procedure. The procedure makes it clear in its purpose statement that:
“The department is not willing to accept or be exposed to risks that compromise its ability to meet our workplace health and safety commitments. The department has a zero-tolerance stance towards occupational violence, and responses must be evidence based, measured and preventative. “
The department’s procedure defines occupational violence as “any action, incident or behaviour that departs from reasonable conduct in which a person is threatened, harmed, injured by another person in the course of, or as a direct result of his or her work.” Incidents of harassment, including sexual harassment, are incidents of occupational violence and should be reported as such."
Reporting, reporting, reporting is the key to documenting occupational violence, so the workforce begins to see that these incidents are not just incidents “we put up with” or just behaviour reports. The incidents involving students often are behaviour reports, but they are also WHS incidents reports which must be reported on MyHR as a WHS incident report. Section 6 of the department’s procedure makes it explicit that “Occupational violence incidents are to be recorded, reported and investigated in accordance with the Health, Safety and Wellbeing Incident Management procedure”.
The QTU has been working with individual workplaces to grow understanding and develop a culture of safety. The QTU, working with the other public sector unions, provided targeted feedback on the early drafts of the occupational violence procedure.