Schools Keeping on top of OHS in a pandemic

  • By Martel Menz
  • This article was published more than 4 years ago.
  • 8 May 2020

The health and safety of our members has never been as important as it is right now, as we navigate the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic. At the centre of all AEU discussions with members, state and federal governments, the Department of Education and Training, WorkSafe and Trades Hall, we have continued to emphasise the importance of employee health and safety during this time.

DET has invested a significant amount of resources in managing OHS with weekly meetings between DET, AEU and WorkSafe. During these meetings, we have raised issues including lack of PPE in specialist schools, increased stress and psychological health risk, and how social distancing and hygiene measures can be implemented for staff and students continuing to learn on-site.

We have advocated for members with DET over a safety management plan (SMP) that has now been sent to schools. This provides a template for principals to use when developing safety plans for their schools. The SMP stresses the importance of consulting with health and safety reps (HSRs) to establish risks and control during this time. It contains a variety of links to various policies and resources which might help when placing controls on hazards.

We have had important input on the hazards, the controls and the wording around these issues. It clearly states that all staff should be reporting any incidents to EduSafe. It notes that DET are monitoring EduSafe and will proactively help schools if they identify multiple hazards. Many potential hazards have been identified for those working on-site and offsite.

They include: infection control for those onsite and a detailed breakdown of the various circumstances that could arise. Musculo-skeletal hazards due to lack of ergonomic setup and increased sitting time for those at home. Psychological hazards for both groups for a variety of reasons. Occupational violence and aggression hazards due to interactions with parents becoming tense.

The department’s OHS management support team will be contacting principals over the next four weeks to check in with their COVID-19 risk assessment plans and controls. If principals need help tailoring the SMP to their own settings, the department will assist – or even complete it for the principal – if required.

Other support available via the department includes free advice and support via video-conference from the department’s OHS advisory service (1300 074 715 or [email protected]) to ensure staff have a safe workstation set-up at home.

Access to EAP via video-conferencing is also available, as is a specific webpage on OHS and COVID-19 with a large amount of information for principals and HSRs. WorkSafe also has a dedicated page on COVID-19 with a lot of useful resources and FAQs.

Here at the AEU, our OHS organisers Janet Marshall and Meaghan Flack, together with other organisers are supporting members and HSRs through a dedicated HSR reference group and online member forums. We are working to transition our health and safety training program to online delivery with the five-day initial course and two one-day refresher courses happening this term.

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