Health and safety needs time and attention
Queensland Teachers' Journal, Vol 123 No 6, 31 August 2018, page no.24
Earlier this year, I quizzed QTU members at four branch meetings about their perceptions of the health and safety culture within their workplaces and the department as a whole.
This straw poll revealed a view that the department had an effective health and safety culture. However, when we drilled a little deeper, members did not articulate a consistent understanding of reporting protocols.
So what is workplace health and safety and what should it look like in our workplaces?
Before anything else, the person/s conducting the business or undertaking (PCBU) has the responsibility to ensure that the workplace is safe. This is a foundational responsibility and cannot be trumped by other responsibilities. The legal article opposite lists the crucial actions and artefacts that would need to be produced as evidence if a formal investigation is initiated. Having these actions/artefacts in place demonstrates that a school has a strong and active health and safety culture that goes beyond the curriculum risk assessments, values the expertise of those delivering the activity and has a strong culture of reporting and then actioning the reports.
A breach of safety is seen to occur when a person fails to meet the standard of care required by the duty, i.e. “reasonable practicability”. This can be undermined by a “make do” culture, which may reveal itself through a lack of willingness to actively consider the risks and the expert knowledge of the employee assessing the risk, a view that nothing has happened before, and sometimes a reluctance to set aside the time and/or purchase the resources to ensure safety.
Where schools have a strong culture and staff understand reporting procedures and the matters that should be reported, data and information is transparently available to review, leading to work practice changes, the implementation of proactive steps to mitigate against a newly revealed risk and perhaps a different or additional staffing allocation. Effective data collection can support formal requests for additional resourcing from facilities, for example the provision of improved fencing.
When undertaking risk assessments, it is important to take into account the age, behaviour and number of students engaged in undertaking the task, as well as the level of knowledge and skill of the professionals leading and supervising.
In the WorkCover Queensland prosecution detailed opposite, which was in relation to a thumb laceration to a year seven student’s hand as a result of an incident with a woodcraft bandsaw (EE221261), the defendant (PCBU) pleaded guilty, and had moved swiftly to undertake a self-initiated comprehensive audit of the use of plant and equipment in manual arts rooms, actions which were considered when the magistrate made his final findings.
In this case, the breach was related to the age of the student and the need for direct supervision. The school no longer allows year seven students to use band saws and has changed protocols in relation to year eight students. WorkCover Queensland notes in its consideration for prevention in relation to this report that when deciding and implementing control measures associated with the risk of death or serious injury, obligation holders should consider the WHS Act 2011, WHS Regulations 2011 and the Children and Young Workers Code of Practice 2006 and Managing Risk of Plant in the Workplace Code of Practice 2013.
Accidents and incidents do happen. While curriculum risk assessments are one part of a proactive culture, there is more to being proactive in the health and safety space. Paying attention to the age and to the foreseeable behaviours of students engaging in an activity will significantly influence the shaping of the activity and the level of adult supervision and instruction.
Legislatively, accidents and incidents must be recorded, and in specific instances, notified to the Regulator. The department clearly expects that incidents and near misses are recorded, notified and investigated to allow corrective action to be initiated. Effective review processes, quality consultative processes and functioning workplace health and safety committees with trained advisors and reps, go a long way to establishing an embedded culture of safety.