With employees becoming "workers" and employers now "persons conducting a business or undertaking" (PCBUs) I have received a lot of questions about the new Health and Safety at Work Act:
Frequently Asked Questions
Q Am I now liable for accidents/incidents that happen in my teaching area?
A No more than you have been since HSE 1992, and only when you have been negligent or failed in a duty of care so no change
Q Does this mean the end of Education Outside the classroom (EOTC)?
A The intent is not to curtail any EOTC, what it means is that qualifications/experience etc are current for staff who run trips and external providers need to be consulted and have their qualifications etc confirmed. You should have been doing this anyway so no change.
Q Will we have to close access to school facilities after hours?
A No, the requirement is for the facilities to be fit for purpose at all times, if the facilities are safe during the day, then public use outside of school hours is fine. Case law has prosecuted boards when facilities have been deficient causing serious harm or death outside of school hours but this should have no effect on staff, it is a board issue.
Q What about school pools and access?
A Provided that the pool is properly fenced and locked when not in authorised use, processes are in place for supervised out of hours use and these processes are signposted then there are no issues. The school cannot be held responsible if someone scales a fence with a locked gate and harms themselves in unauthorised use of a pool (or any other facility).
There is no liability for anyone on site for illegal purposes.
Q Am I personally liable for Health and Safety of my outdoor education classes?
A No it is the duty of the board to ensure the safety of all workers and others ( this is where students fall under the new Act) this would include practices and processes for staff to follow that ensure Health and Safety for all in its care, however if the policies and processes are ignored then the liability may fall on the teacher.
This has been the case previously, no change.
Q Do I need to have risk analysis and managment systems (RAMs) for all experiments that I do every time I do them?
A No, they should have been verified before they go into the management doc/scheme/planner or whatever you call your existing planning programme. This is best practice and should be currently being done so no change.
Q Should we let kids climb trees?
A Do you let them already? Yes then no change. It has to be contextual, 50m tall Norfolk Pine probably not, 6m Apple tree probably, just apply common sense.
Q Will I need to close or limit my hard materials workshop classes?
A If you have sound teaching practice regarding machinery use then there is nothing to worry about. It may be advisable to update your record keeping of when and how you have approved students to use certain machines. It would pay to have a record of what machines were demonstrated and the safe use of them and when this took place.
Q Am I now financially liable for incidents?
A No you are not suddenly now liable. You have been liable since the 1992 Health and safety in Employment Act introduced 3 tiers of fine with a maximum of $500k for death or serious harm, interestingly nobody batted an eyelid at this figure which is now inflation adjusted to $808k but now the $600k has been announced everyone is up in arms and talking houses in trust etc. Nobody in the Education sector has been prosecuted since the 1992 Act was introduced and unless you are negligent and fail in your duty of care leading to serious harm or death then nobody will be fined this amount in the education sector. This has been the case previously so no change.
Q What responsibilities as a Teacher do I now have?
A Teachers must:
Take reasonable care for their health and safety
Take reasonable care that their behaviour does not adversely affect the health and safety of others
Report any incident, risk or hazard to an officer or health and safety representative
Comply with any reasonable instruction form the PCBU* (Board) to allow the PCBU to comply with the Act
Cooperate with the PCBU’s health and safety policies or procedures inform visitors etc of any known hazards or risks in the workplace (*A PCBU is a ‘person conducting a business or undertaking’. )
Q What is the role of a Health and Safety Rep?
A A Health and Safety Representative (HSR) performs a number of functions including:
Representing school workers generally on health and safety matters
Investigating complaints from school workers about health and safety issues at the school
Representing a school worker on a specific health and safety matter (including a complaint) if asked to do so by that worker
Monitoring health and safety measures taken by the Board of Trustees and providing feedback to the Board about health and safety compliance
Inquiring into anything that appears to be a health and safety risk to school workers arising from the activities of the school and making recommendations to the Board of Trustees on work health and safety
Promoting the interests of school workers who have been harmed at work, including arrangements for rehabilitation and return to work
Issuing provisional improvement notices in the school workplace
Being able to direct workgroup members (school workers the HSR represents) to cease work.
Q What is the role of a Health and Safety Committee?
A A Health and Safety Committee:
Facilitates co-operation between the Board of Trustees and school workers in instigating, developing, and carrying out measures designed to ensure the school workers’ health and safety at work
Assists in developing any standards, rules, policies, or procedures relating to health and safety that are to be followed or complied with at the school
Makes recommendations to the Board of Trustees about work health and safety.
Q How many Health and Safety reps (HSRs) may we have?
A The prescribed minimum ratio of HSRs for a work group is 1 representative for every 19 workers. If the number of workers divided by 19 does not equal a whole number, the number of health and safety representatives to be elected is increased to the next whole number. e.g. 10 workers = 1 HSR, 23 workers = 2 HSRs
Q How do we get the Health and Safety reps?
A Any 1 worker may request elections for Health and Safety Representatives (HSRs) or the PCBU may decide to call for elections (regulations apply as to how this happens)
Q How do we get a Health and Safety Committee?
A Any 5 workers or 1 HSR may call for formation of a Health and Safety Committee (HSC) or the PCBU may decide to appoint one (regulations apply as to how this happens)
Better provision for due diligence: Health and Safety at Work Act (page from PPTA News April 2016)
New legislation raises the stakes (Health and Safety Act 2015) (page from PPTA News October 2015)