WHS: Risk management under the COVID-19 spotlight
Queensland Teachers' Journal, Vol 123 No 4, 5 June 2020, page no. 21
The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the importance of active workplace health and safety (WHS) risk management in all workplaces – so now is the time to revise and refresh key WHS risk management concepts.
Primary duty is safety
The law requires the person conducting the business or undertaking (the PCBU) i.e. the Department of Education, to exercise diligence to ensure the health and safety of their workers and others. Where a hazard poses a risk to the health and safety of workers, risk management processes need to be enlivened to eliminate or minimise the risk of harm or injury.
The process of risk management (risk minimisation) is proactive and cyclical. Risk management strategies should be reviewed as changes occur or at regular intervals. To many of us, it makes perfect sense to review when changes are made, but it is crucial to review risk management strategies at intervals as well, even when it can seem that nothing has changed. Regular review prevents complacency.
Under the legislation, consultation is seen as being at the heart of risk management, ensuring the growth of a strong work culture of safety. The WHS Act Qld states that the PCBU (the department) must consult with workers. At schools and other department workplaces, the local workplace health and safety committee must ensure that consultation occurs when:
- identifying hazards and assessing risks arising from work
- proposing changes that may affect the health and safety of workers (such as changing systems of work)
- carrying out activities prescribed by the WHS regulations.
The act places significant importance on the voice of workers, as they know their work, the hazards and the inherent risks. Department workplaces must consult with workers and take their views into account when making decisions about:
- ways to eliminate or minimise risks
- the adequacy of facilities for workers’ welfare
- procedures for consulting workers
- resolving health and safety issues
- monitoring the health and safety of workers or workplace conditions
- how to provide health and safety information and training to workers.
Workplace health and safety committees (sections 75-79) facilitate cooperation between an organisation and workers in developing and carrying out measures to ensure health and safety (the department calls these committees health safety and wellbeing committees (HSWs)). At least half of the committee members must be workers who have not been nominated by management. The WHS committee will include the WHS officer (also known as the WHS advisor) and WHS representative, where one has been elected by workers in a work group. Details of who the committee members are must be displayed in a prominent place within each worksite.
Workplace health and safety representatives are workers elected by a work group to represent its views on matters of WHS. The QTU strongly recommends that teachers elect WHS representatives.
How does risk management apply in the day to day life of the school?
Risk management should apply in our schools and workplaces in the same way as it is expected to occur in other workplaces. An identified risk should be raised. The OnePortal MyHR WHS online incident reporting system is where employees lodge a hazard as a near miss (incident report) or an actual incident. Hazards that pose risks to workers and others can be raised through your supervisor or the WHS committee. As always, follow up a verbal and/or emailed report with the MyHR WHS reporting module.
When a concern is raised, the risk management process is followed. This is covered in the DoE mandatory training module, which every employee is required to complete.
The four steps are:
- identify the hazards
- assess the risk
- control the risks
- monitor and review the safety measures.
Not all risks are easily recognised. It is important to remember that the department sees occupational violence as a WHS matter which is to be managed in the same way as any other WHS matter. Any instances of occupational violence must be reported through the MyHR WHS reporting module. The department has an Occupational Violence Prevention Procedure, which clearly shows that violence is a risk to school leaders, teachers and others, and needs to be managed and addressed.
More information on WHS and risk management can be found here: https://education.qld.gov.au/initiatives-and-strategies/health-and wellbeing/workplaces/safety