Time to review safety, psychosocially speaking
Queensland Teachers' Journal, Vol 126 No 7, 8 October 2021, page no.25
Everyone has the right to come home safe and sound from work, both physically and psychosocially.
October’s Safe Work Month spotlights the benefits of mentally healthy workplaces. The theme for Mental Health Week 2021 (9-17 October) was “take time for mental health”.
In our schools and workplaces, let’s take the time to strengthen workplace systems to ensure a psychosocially safe and healthy workplace.
A focus on mental health often encourages individuals to exercise, take time out, enjoy social connections and eat well. While these are valuable tips to manage wellbeing, a focus on personal aspects implies that workplace wellbeing is an individual responsibility that the employer has no active role in. Nothing could be further from the legal truth.
Legally, employers have an obligation to attend to matters they have agency over. So, let’s reflect on the systems and structures that can put people’s psychosocial health at risk.
Safe Work Australia’s fact sheet “Preventing psychological injury under work health and safety laws” (2014) identifies the common workplace hazards that can adversely impact on a worker’s psychosocial safety: “Workers’ psychological and physical health can be adversely affected by exposure to a poorly designed or managed work environment, a traumatic event, workplace violence, fatigue, bullying or harassment, and excessive or prolonged work pressures.”
It is likely that a number of the work factors above would be impacting on teachers and school leaders in their workplace.
The Work Health and Safety Act 2011 (Qld) expects the following obligations to be delivered on and managed.
- Providing and maintaining a work environment without risk to health and safety; example - ensuring workers know how and where to report WHS incidents.
- Providing and maintaining safe systems of work; example - reviewing playground rosters to align with industrial instruments.
- Monitoring the health of workers and the conditions at the workplace; example - reviewing WHS incident data on occupational violence.
- Consulting with workers and their representatives on work health and safety matters; example - reviewing assessment and reporting timeline.
- Providing information, training, instruction and supervision so workers can safely perform their work activities; example - training on how to maintain voice health while teaching in face masks.
Consultation should currently be occurring in schools in relation to the 2022 student free days. If consultation is proactive, authentic, timely and:
- directly engages with the affected employees so that they can shape, propose different models
- takes into account teachers’ family responsibilities and other commitments
- provides the relevant industrial entitlements, such as meal breaks and rest pauses
- clearly maps the hours and communicates the agreed model
- is used to provide mandatory and other agreed training
- considers whether venues and/or activities are suitable for weather/the time of the year etc
... then there is evidence of a commitment to enacting the positive duty to ensure the physical and psychosocial safety of workers and others.
A rushed consultation process would be the antithesis of the above and creates a psychosocial hazard.
There are processes in all our workplaces that could be reviewed to be tweaked or re-designed to ensure safe systems of work.