The Sunday Herald-Sun ran an article that would not have been out-of-place in the English tabloid newspapers. The article, “Safety regulations taking the fun out of schools”, indicates many of the confused lines of responsibility that English articles include.
In Victoria, the safety requirements of government schools are determined by the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development (DEECD). The OHS regulator, WorkSafe, has some influence but far less that DEECD. (The only really school-related OHS document from WorkSafe Victoria was released in 2008)
The Sunday Herald-Sun article states, in some pictures not in the online version, that the Victorian Principals Association has been told of OHS regulations that require teachers to “put on mask, surgical gloves to apply a band-aid”. According to DEECD’s First Aid & Infection Control Procedure states that
“The following infection control procedures must always be adhered to:
- Wash hands after direct contact with injured person;
- Wear protective gloves when contacting bodily fluids, non-intact skin and mucous membranes;
- Wear a mask, eye protection and a gown where there is a risk of splashing blood or other bodily fluids;
- Cover cuts and abrasions;…….”
This is in line with the previous national infection control guidelines.
The newspaper also states that “five different types of first-aid kits must be kept and regularly monitored”. There is little support for this. The Department requires schools to undertake an assessment of first aid needs in consultation with staff members. The elements of the assessment are very familiar from some of the OHS First Aid Codes of Practice:
“The assessment must have regard to:
- Type of work performed and the nature of the hazards (i.e. science laboratories, workshops, chemical storage, offices, vehicles, excursions and camps, etc);
- Potential injuries, illnesses and likely causes;
- Size and layout of the workplace;
- Number and distribution of employees and others including arrangements such as shift work, travel requirements, visitors;
- Location of the site (i.e. proximity to medical facilities); and
- Previous accidents and injuries.”
It may be that such an assessment results in multiple types of first aid kits. It is not unreasonable to consider a small portable first aid kit for yard duty, a more comprehensive kit or cupboard located in the first aid room and a backpack unit for school excursions or camps. A portable kit of child medications is also likely to be taken on excursions and school camps.
In September 2011, Safe Work Australia released a draft code of practice for First Aid. The elements of assessment support the DEECD guidelines.
The newspaper article reports VPA’s president Gabrielle Leigh saying that
“Schools are finding it really difficult and it hasn’t made it safer…. We have had to counsel principals who are gobsmacked. Smaller schools are finding it really difficult because they don’t have the resources.”
First aid is not designed to make workplaces or schools safer. It is applied after an incident to reduce damage and harm. There could be a preventative element of safety awareness-raising through first aid training but this is unlikely to affect the actions of schoolchildren.
It may also be useful to note that the VPA’s concerns may not only be about first aid. A 2010 positions paper says that
“The Victorian Principals Association (VPA) is concerned that there has been a new strategy implemented by DEECD to address OH&S issues. Each school is being rated in an OH&S audit. The process is very time consuming and unwieldy. It distracts from the core functions of educational leadership and further increases the arduous compliance burden for schools.”
Schools are indeed about education but few parents would support the core function of educational leadership (whatever that means) without the obligation for that education to occur in a safe and healthy learning environment.
It is difficult to respond to the comment about the counselling of “gobsmacked” principals unless this relates to the hours of time spent searching the internet for safety information that is not necessary.
The issue of inadequate resources is a constant for many schools and small businesses. There are ways to streamline safety processes and most of these involve assessing needs early in the process and reviewing these needs regularly. But there is no doubt that OHS takes time and resources, just as does any other core business activity. The trick is to focus on the significant risks.
The Sunday Herald-Sun article states that
“Staff [say] they are being overwhelmed by a growing list of safety-related demands from the State Government.”
Who this is in the Victorian Government is unclear as the Education Department has clear OHS guidelines for first aid on its website and, presumably, in the administrative manuals.
Safety and first aid can become burdensome but this often stems from looking at the minutiae of the safety management process and not the major risks. It can also be generated by a misunderstanding of what employers and government regulators expect.
The big picture risk with this type of article is that, if the issues raised are not countered or clarified, a momentum can build that can seriously discredit safety. This was allowed to occur in England and has required considerable resources from the regulators to combat and still the battle continues. WorkSafe, the Education Department and the safety profession, generally, needs to address this “trend” while it is still in its infancy in Victoria. They need to apply the OHS principle of the prevention of harm to such reports before the job becomes too big and too expensive and OHS becomes the realm of “fun vampires”.