26 April 2022

WorkSafe on a mission to expand remit; sets sights on schools, play centres, health facilities

| Lottie Twyford
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WorkSafe ACT Commissioner Jacqueline Agius

WorkSafe ACT Commissioner Jacqueline Agius said it was always her intention to expand the remit of WorkSafe beyond construction. Photo: WorkSafe ACT.

In recent weeks, WorkSafe ACT has been noticeably busier than usual. Prohibition notices and improvement notices have been issued to schools, play centres and the Territory’s secure mental health unit, Dhulwa.

Traditionally, work health and safety have often been thought of as something which mainly applies to the construction industry, Work Health and Safety Commissioner Jacqueline Agius noted.

And while construction is an extremely high-risk workplace, it’s not the only one where accidents can happen and risks are always present.

“I made it very clear when I began in this position almost two years ago that work health and safety is not just about construction. WorkSafe needed to expand its safety remit, and that’s exactly what we’ve been doing,” Ms Agius explained.

“We’re making sure we’re in the places where we are seeing the highest risk and using our intelligence to pinpoint those risks.”

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Ms Agius was personally involved in an occupational violence act involving a knife when she herself was a teacher. Even though this incident occurred more than 25 years ago, she remains committed to ensuring things like this don’t happen again.

This month alone, the regulator issued Calwell High School with a prohibition notice and barred a large cohort of students from attending campus after WorkSafe inspectors attended campus and found critical safety issues.

The notice, which was subsequently released to the media, told of serious issues with violence, bullying and under-staffing.

Teachers at the school were subjected to sexualised behaviour, abuse and threats and reported being regularly assaulted by students, including one who was left with a dislocated shoulder, several broken teeth, welts to the lower arm, and bruising to their back after trying to intervene to stop one student from assaulting another.

Other students roamed the corridors with makeshift weapons and teachers were ‘scared’ of them.

Calwell high school

Year 7 and 8 students at Calwell High School were barred from attending school after WorkSafe ACT found an “untenable” violent and unsafe situation when they attended campus last week. Photo: Calwell High School.

The regulator has also issued improvement and prohibition notices to the Dhulwa Mental Health Unit after reports of escalating violence and assaults in recent months.

But on the same day the notices were issued, a nurse was involved in an incident with a door and an aggressive patient that left him with a degloved and partially severed finger.

Nurses at the facility reported more than 100 assaults in six months and said they were afraid to go to work.

And most recently, a child fell 4.8 metres from a piece of climbing equipment – allegedly at FlipOut Canberra – and WorkSafe issued the piece of equipment with a prohibition notice.

Ms Agius confirmed the regulator had been involved in investigating several of these incidents in the last year. While the child at the centre of this case was not seriously injured, other incidents had led to broken bones.

“Work health and safety is there for every worker in every industry and every visitor to every workplace,” Ms Agius said.

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She said it’s been pleasing to see people becoming more comfortable reporting unsafe incidents or occurrences in all workplaces.

“But, we are also seeing some really positive movement in the construction industry, and we’re hearing some really positive comments from [that space],” she said.

The Commissioner is not of the view that ‘accidents happen’.

Instead, “if there are safe systems in place, every accident is preventable”.

She called on people who may spot something unsafe to contact with WorkSafe on 13 22 81.

“Safety is not ‘set and forget’, it’s continuous monitoring and reviewing.”

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The ACT – let the problems get out of control, then bring in WorkSafe to massage some stats to make the government look good

Judy Gleeson8:34 am 25 Apr 22

I hope WorkSafe keeps an eye on Foster carers’ safety in the ACT. Though not accepted as “workers” by this commissioner, there’s still a requirement to keep these volunteers safe. Safe physically. Safe from bullying and the vicarious trauma that comes with fostering.
When WorkSafe audited a local provider and (off the record) found – no evidence of some key policies being put in practice. It’s not good enough.

Fantastic to see Worksafe ACT looking at Whs other than construction. Construction is important of course but not the only risk in ACT workplaces and historically other risks have been left out. Well done to Jacqui and the team. Look forward to seeing you work with other industries in the jurisdiction.

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