Schools Using OHS to manage violence

  • By Seir Holley
  • This article was published more than 6 months ago.
  • 16 Nov 2023

AEU members are sometimes subjected to work-related violence, including gendered violence. Gendered violence is any type of harm directed at someone because of their actual or perceived gender or sexual orientation, or because they do not adhere to dominant gender stereotypes or socially prescribed gender roles. It is a workplace hazard that should be addressed from an OHS perspective, using the provisions under the OHS Act that require employers to maintain a safe and healthy working environment and to consult with HSRs and employees about health and safety issues.

It is important that AEU members and sub-branches work collectively to have gendered violence identified as a hazard, by raising hazards directly with principals through HSRs, and by reporting hazards on eduSafe Plus.

Schools are required to manage risks by maintaining an OHS risk register that captures risks and the controls to be implemented in response. Where gendered violence has been identified as a hazard, it should be added to the register so that a risk assessment can be undertaken to determine the likelihood and severity of the risk.

Where challenging student behaviour is the source of the hazard, we often hear from members that the approach taken is to consider the student’s educational needs and any support the school can implement to help the student through the development of a Behaviour Support Plan.

It is important that AEU members and sub-branches work collectively to have gendered violence identified as a hazard.

Whilst this is important, it is also important that the hazard is approached using the OHS framework to consider the impact on the health and safety of staff. Work-related gendered violence can be prevented through structures, policies, training, and controls designed to minimise the risk and severity of incidents.

Where behaviours pose a significant risk, Risk Management Plans for students should be developed. A Risk Management Plan differs to a Behaviour Support Plan in that it seeks to outline the actions that will be undertaken to ensure staff safety – for example, the supervision required, the verbal response, actions staff can take to avoid aggression, where staff should position themselves in relation to the student, and so on. These plans are an OHS risk assessment and management tool, focused on preventing and managing the impact of student behaviour on principals, teachers, and ES.

AEU members at secondary schools have reported that Respectful Relationships Education is helping to develop students’ skills, attitudes and understanding of gender inequality, and respectful, equal, and non-violent relationships.

Risk Management Plans for individual students should be included in the school’s OHS risk register. Risk registers need to be monitored and regularly reviewed to ensure that the health and safety hazards are being addressed in an ongoing way and adjusted where needed.

AEU members at secondary schools have reported that Respectful Relationships Education is helping to develop students’ skills, attitudes and understanding of gender inequality, and respectful, equal, and non-violent relationships. Other schools have reported that protective intervention training has supported staff to manage challenging student behaviours while reducing the need for physical interventions.

Schools that have had success in minimising risks associated with specific hazards, such as work-related gendered violence, report that they were able to achieve these outcomes by ensuring that there is an elected HSR, utilising established consultative avenues, and working collectively with school leaders to address workplace hazards.

Members seeking support to address work-related gendered violence at their workplace should contact their AEU organiser.

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