WorkSafe Month: is your school ensuring the health and safety of staff?

This month is WorkSafe Health and Safety month. States and territories are regularly updating legislation, regulation and guidance on work health and safety (WHS) and occupational health and safety (OHS) matters which apply to schools.  But it is important to remember that sometimes, simple messages work best.  For example, did you know that in 2012–13, work-related injury and disease cost the Australian economy $61.8 billion?

Safe Work Australia’s website has multiple useful and informative resources, facts and statistics to help your school recognise WorkSafe Health and Safety month but also, continue to practice safe work practices in the future.

Did you know?

According to the Safe Work website 205 workers are killed each year.  Of those,

  • 36% are vehicle incident
  • 13% are falls from a height
  • 21% of fatalities were truck drivers

There are further statistics per state and territory.

In terms of compensation claims there are 115,400 “serious claims” each year. Of those:

  • 16% are for muscular stress while lifting, carrying objects
  • 16% are for muscular stress while handling objects
  • 29% are serious claims made by labourers

A serious claim is defined as an accepted workers’ compensation claim for an incapacity that results in a total absence from work for one working week or more. It includes claims that receive common law payments. Claims that arise from a journey to or from work, or during a recess period, are not compensable in all jurisdictions and are excluded, as are compensated fatalities.

Your policies and procedures: terminology update

In light of the statistics above, now is a good time for schools to be reviewing their WHS/OHS policies and procedures to ensure that they comply with legislation, regulation, standards and guidance.  Policies and procedures should be drafted to address two key elements: hazard and risk. The Safe Work website provides the following useful definitions of these concepts:

  •  A ‘hazard’ is a situation or thing that has the potential to harm a person. Hazards at work may include noisy machinery, a moving forklift, chemicals, electricity, working at height, a repetitive job, and bullying and violence.
  • A ‘risk’ is the possibility that harm – death, injury or illness – might occur when exposed to a hazard.

Designing and implementing effective policies and procedures will identify the hazard and will minimise the risk of the hazard occurring.

Recent legal update

In Victoria, new legislation has received assent – the WorkSafe Legislation Amendment Act 2017 (Amendment Act) – which amends several acts including the Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004 (Vic) (OHS Act).  For Victorian schools, the key things to be aware of under the Amendment Act include:

  • changing penalties and prosecution time limits for WorkSafe inspections
  • strengthening of principal OHS duties
  • new emergency asbestos orders.

There is also a key new offence for contravening an enforceable undertaking, meaning if a school chooses to agree to an enforceable undertaking with WorkSafe, it is even more important to follow through on the promised action, as prosecution of the conduct is now possible if the enforceable undertaking is breached.

The emergency asbestos removal orders will usually be enforced in response to large scale bushfire emergencies that have damaged or destroyed multiple properties containing asbestos. Schools in Victoria will be familiar with this type of damage from the bushfires which occurred on Black Saturday in 2009.

Useful guidance

For more information about a school’s duty to comply with WHS/OHS legislation, refer to our Briefing Paper: Model Australian Work Health & Safety Laws

About the author

Lauren Osbich is a Legal Research Consultant at Complispace and a School Governance Reporter. She can be contacted here.

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