WHS: Barriers to reporting occupational violence
Queensland Teachers' Journal, Vol 126 No 6, 3 September 2021, page no.23
With members continually frustrated by barriers to reporting occupational violence, the QTU has repeatedly raised the inadequacy of the MyHR WHS Incident Reporting module with the Department of Education. This has prompted the department to make several commitments that, if delivered, foreshadow systemic improvements.
In July 2020, the department noted the Union’s concerns regarding the reporting system and its OneSchool behaviour reports, and in particular the need to record information in both systems in response to a single event. The department responded that:
- the two reporting areas had different purposes
- a review of both systems identified very few data fields that could be automatically transferred from the OneSchool to the MyHR Incident module
- there currently isn’t a sustainable solution through which the transfer of OneSchool (student behaviour) data would enable the creation of records within the MyHR WHS module.
The department flagged plans to improve the OneSchool Behaviour Wizard, including exploring the option of a prompt feature that would take users to MyHR WHS if an injury occurred, although it recognised that this was not the ideal solution.
In April 2021, the department released its draft Occupational Violence and Aggression Prevention Strategy for consultation, including a “systems approach” section. This is crucial, as it would ensure a specific awareness-raising strategy helping employees understand their legislated obligation to report incidents or near misses and that it is appropriate and actively encouraged that occupational violence, sexual harassment and behavioural incidents are reported as work, health and safety (WHS) issues. The QTU has called for specific tabs for occupational violence, sexual harassment and racism, rather than the current generic “security threat” tab.
The “Strategy outcomes” section also foreshadowed planned improvements:
- streamline existing departmental processes and systems
- ensure all existing preventative and early intervention procedures, processes and systems take into account OVA risks
- improve staff experience when using existing departmental processes and systems.
Should the commitments be delivered, it remains the work of the QTU and grassroots members to provide ongoing feedback on the quality and efficacy of any new processes.
A QTU branch recently sought guidance on how to escalate reporting. Under the MyHR WHS Incident Reporting module and WHS review processes, a pattern of reports about the same type of incident is actioned by the accountable officer, in consultation with others. WHS legislation and department procedures require that any steps actioned during the review and monitoring phases should enhance safety and prevent or significantly mitigate further risk of harm. Where incidents are being reported, it becomes clear that there is now a foreseeable risk which must be addressed. If patterns are not identified and addressed, then members, with their Union Reps, should identify the patterns. The WHS issue should be emailed to the chairperson of the WHS committee and to the principal, for urgent attention.
The WHS Act imposes a duty to consult on employers. Workplace Health and Safety Queensland’s Work Health and Safety Consultation, Cooperation and Coordination Code of Practice makes it clear that the employer must consult with workers when:
- identifying hazards and assessing risks to health and safety arising from the work carried out or to be carried out
- making decisions about ways to eliminate or minimise those risks
- making decisions about the adequacy of facilities for the welfare of workers
- proposing changes that may affect the health and safety of workers
- making decisions about procedures with workers; resolving health or safety issues at the workplace; monitoring health of workers; monitoring the conditions at the workplace under your management or control and providing information and training for workers.
If members have elected health and safety representatives (HSRs), then report the matter to the HSR. If listing occupational violence at the WHS Committee does not lead to active consultation with affected staff and steps are not taken to mitigate foreseeable risks to both physical and psychological health, then the matter can be escalated to the QTU.
WHS monitoring, reporting and responding take time. The QTU position is that all schools should have a WHS position provided through the allocative model. Such resourcing would ensure that strong knowledge and quality system-led processes will be put into place. Such an investment in safety is long overdue.