As our TAFES, centres and schools emerge from COVID restrictions and establish new ways of working safely, we can begin to take stock and reflect on the massive year (nearly) behind us.
Educators have demonstrated great skill and flexibility in flipping their work – on multiple occasions – to meet the needs of children and students in response to changing COVID restrictions. We know that the full psychological health impacts of this time are yet to emerge.
From an OHS perspective, it took time to translate public health restrictions to safe systems at the workplace – whether this be on or off site. This was smoother where good local OHS practices and procedures were already established. Worksafe moved methodically to ensure that the OHS Act and principles were applied, but the pandemic has tested unchartered territory and exposed huge gaps and vulnerabilities in some sectors.
In our own workplaces interpreting high-level DHHS and DET guidance and instructions to each local and individual circumstance has required enormous work, consultation, co-operation and creative problem solving amongst all staff to get it right.
Importantly, this has reinforced why the OHS Act requires consultation with employees and why it provides for employee representation in Health and Safety Representatives (HSRs). The best OHS decisions and outcomes can only be informed by on-the-ground knowledge and employee representation and involvement.
Throughout the year, we have facilitated online meetings to bring together our amazing HSRs and union reps so that we can share information and actions. These meetings have also informed AEU advocacy and representation with DET and Worksafe.
On the ground, our HSRs have been magnificent in utilising their OHS training and commitment to ensure the health and safety of their colleagues, students and the wider community throughout the COVID crisis.
Where they saw gaps in safety – often in high-level policies and procedures as well as local practices – they have acted decisively, as provided by the OHS Act. Sometimes they have acted under enormous pressure not to rock the boat. In many cases they have had to define what OHS consultation means.
Taking action under the OHS Act does not always deliver a precise or immediate benefit – this too can be time-consuming – but it does and will always make a difference.
We thank all of our amazing and committed HSRs and union reps for the work they have undertaken and will continue to do as we navigate our new ‘COVID normal’.