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OHS Management System (OHSMS) Overview

Employee Health Safety and Wellbeing Policy

6  COVID-19 employee health, safety and wellbeing supports for schools

The latest COVID-19 advice for schools is available here.

The below page is part of the Department's Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) Management System. It provides tailored advice and links to supports for managing COVID-19 related OHS risks and matters relating to employee health, safety and wellbeing.

The Department is committed to providing support that is relevant to the current circumstances, and helps address and manage the health, safety and wellbeing needs of principals and staff. It is now more important than ever to look after ourselves and access the supports that are available.

Existing support services that have previously been available to principals and staff remain available. Many services have been tailored to the current environment, and some new supports and initiatives are being introduced. Further details on the relevant resources, services and policies to support staff and principal health, safety and wellbeing through this time can be found below.

COVID-19 Safety Management Plan (COVIDSafe Plan)

The COVID-19 Safety Management Plan (COVIDSafe Plan) applies to all schools and outlines the key OHS risks and links to the latest guidance. This document in conjunction with the School Operations Guide (login required) sets out the approach for managing safety risks in schools in accordance with the minimum requirements for the COVIDSafe Plans.

The Department’s OHS Advisory Service or local Regional OHS Support Officers can assist in tailoring the plan to individual school needs. Principals should consult with their local Health and Safety Representative/s and Health and Safety Committee/s (if applicable) or via all staff meetings to implement the health and safety guidance to the extent reasonably practicable, and escalate unresolved issues via eduSafe Plus (login required), which is being proactively monitored by the Department to provide support.

Consultation

Consultation promotes communication and provides a crucial link between employers and employees which can help achieve better health and safety outcomes in the workplace. It is also a requirement of the OHS Act

The Department is providing tailored support to principals and staff to manage the risks of COVID-19. There are 2 streams to this work:

  • Centrally-managed consultation and risk management — is focused on relaying the latest health and safety advice to schools and providing triaged support to schools for issues that are unable to be resolved locally.
  • Locally-managed consultation and risk management — principals should focus on engagement with their local Health and Safety Representatives (HSRs) and Health and Safety Committees (HSC) (if applicable) or via all staff meetings, to enable implementation at their sites of the latest health and safety advice. It is important that principals make it clear to staff that their health, safety and wellbeing, and that of their students, is always paramount. Regional OHS Support Officers are available for assistance with local consultation if required.

Consultation with Health and Safety Representatives (HSRs) and Health and Safety Committees (HSC)

Teaching and education support staff are often best placed to identify health and safety hazards and issues in the workplace and are often in the best position to suggest appropriate controls for those hazards. Staff should bring issues or concerns to the attention of their HSR and HSC (if applicable) or principal.

Reporting

Health and safety is a shared responsibility. Reporting employee injuries, near misses and hazards in eduSafe Plus ensures that risks can be addressed to prevent injuries occurring again and support is provided for recovery.

The Employee Health, Safety and Wellbeing Division is monitoring eduSafe Plus reports to triage support requirements. Principals should encourage staff to make eduSafe Plus reports. The OHS Advisory Service is available for assistance to manage multiple reports via a single management plan if required. Principals are reminded they can also make eduSafe Plus reports.

Infection prevention and control training and information

School infection prevention and control during COVID-19 eLearn module

All staff working on-site in schools are required to complete the eLearn module School infection prevention and control during COVID-19 (login required) as soon as possible. The module provides COVID-19 infection control training, including practical strategies and information about the precautions that can be taken to reduce risk whilst at work, enabling staff to contribute to a safer environment for your students, colleagues and other members of the school community.

Principals will also have the flexibility to manage and monitor completion by their staff through LearnED and manage non-completion through existing performance development plan (PDP) conversations.

A parallel module is now also available on FUSE for preservice teachers, casual relief teachers and other staff working in schools who do not have eduPay access.

Other information and training sources

  • For measures required to manage COVID-19, principals should follow the latest guidance provided in the relevant School Operations Guide (login required).
  • Guidance on providing a safe space for isolating unwell staff or students is available on the Department’s intranet (login required).
  • All staff who may need to use personal protective equipment (PPE) must review the Department's Guidance for the use of Personal Protective Equipment in education (login required) and view an instructional video on the use of PPE. Information on how to wear and care for face masks, including reusable face masks can be found here (login required).
  • Principals must ensure that all staff who may need to use PPE have been provided with the appropriate information and training. They should allow staff the time to access these resources. This could be done by spending time on these items in a staff meeting, as well as sending it to HSRs and HSC (if applicable).
  • In situations where face masks are required, school leaders should remind staff to wear face masks and prompt staff who are not wearing them when required to put them on.
  • Density limits of one person per two square metres apply to staff areas such as staff lunchrooms and areas accessed by the public, such as reception areas. For public areas, signage must be displayed to indicate the maximum number of members of the public that may be present in the space at a single time.
  • Resources are available in the School Communications Support Pack (login required).
  • Refer to ChemWatch (login required) to access the hand sanitiser safety data sheet.
  • If there are issues that require escalation for support (such as issues in implementing the guidance), schools should contact the OHS Advisory Service on 1300 074 715.
  • The DET COVID-19 hotline is available for all staff to call with any questions relating to COVID-19 in schools. Call 1800 338 663.
  • Schools can access the Department’s First Aid for Students and Staff Policy.

Health and safety strategies in schools

Health and safety strategies are published in the School Operations Guide and the COVID-19 Safety Management Plan (COVIDSafe Plan).

Strategies are in place to ensure that schools continue to be safe for those who are working on site. It is important for principals to ensure that all staff at their school are aware of the health and safety strategies and measures in place.

Principals should display the COVIDSafe Roles and Responsibilities Posters (login required) on the OHS noticeboard. These posters detail the shared responsibility of health and safety in schools and the health and safety strategies that should be applied in schools.

Required actions for suspected or confirmed cases of COVID-19 in schools

All staff have a responsibility to ensure they do not attend the school if they are unwell, and to notify the principal if they become unwell, or if they test positive for COVID-19.

Schools should continue to follow the advice outlined in the School Operations Guide when managing a suspected or confirmed case for any person who has been on school grounds, including staff, students or contractors. The Operations Guide also contains links to resources or supports available to assist schools in implementing the advice.

Work across multiple sites

There is no longer a requirement to reduce work across multiple sites.

COVIDSafe Assurance Program for Schools

The Department’s COVIDSafe Assurance Program for Schools is providing additional expert advice to help schools implement health and safety strategies that minimise the risk of COVID-19 transmission in schools. The program commenced in Term 4 2020 and is continuing during Term 1 and 2 2021. Selected schools have been notified via email

The COVIDSafe Assurance Program for Schools should support increased confidence for staff, students and members of the school community that schools have the support they need to remain safe.

The multi-stage program is designed and delivered with the objective of minimising the risk of COVID-19 transmission in schools. It will ensure that schools and DET are acquitting their obligations under the OHS Act, and in accordance with the Safe and Well in Education Framework.

The first step in the program involves the provision of health and safety guidance to schools, as set out in the COVID-19 Safety Management Plan (COVIDSafe Plan) and School Operations Guide. This page outlines the resources and supports that are available to school leaders to facilitate consultation at a local level and to implement risk controls.

The second step is having trained Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) officers make on-site support visits to schools. Visiting officers will work through a checklist with the school to ensure controls have been effectively implemented. This creates an opportunity for additional hands-on support to the school to:

  • implement risk controls
  • facilitate local consultation
  • address any other health and safety matters.

Schools are selected either randomly or based on risk factors including:

  • active case data from Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS)
  • school closure data
  • eduSafe Plus and IRIS reports, along with other measures.

Schools will receive advance notice prior to the visit. The checklist (login required) is available for all schools to view and to have visibility on what the support officers will be focussing on. The checklist is a summary of health and safety action items aligned with the COVID-19 Safety Management Plan (COVIDSafe Plan) and School Operations Guide. All schools may find this checklist to be a useful tool to review and support their own implementation of the health and safety guidance.

Schools should be reminded that the COVIDSafe Assurance Program will only review implementation of the measures set out in the above checklist and linked resources. For example, for kitchen and tearoom settings specifically:

  • while some schools may choose to use single serve coffee/sugar sachets, this is not required by the Operations Guide and
  • similarly, while some schools may choose to have disinfectant wipes available in staff rooms for staff to use to clean high touch points, this is not required where the staff room is being cleaned regularly (after recess and lunchtime).

As a final measure of assurance that schools are supported to be COVIDSafe, this checklist will then be reviewed by an independent assurance provider engaged by DET. Schools will be supported by DET to take any further required actions identified in this review process.

Principal health and wellbeing

Principal Health and Wellbeing Strategy services are available to support leaders of the school community. Principals should consider accessing the available services to protect and enhance their health and wellbeing:

  • Proactive Wellbeing Supervision (login required) has been extended to include assistant principals on an ongoing basis, and offers support for all of the principal-class to be effective wellbeing leaders, and support the health and wellbeing of their school staff within the current context, as well as prioritise their own health and wellbeing.
  • Principal Mentor Program has increased its capacity to cater for higher demand, which matches current principals with a highly skilled recently retired principal.
  • Early Intervention Program (login required) provides allied health case management support and access to treatment services including psychology, physiotherapy, dietetics and more.
  • Principal Health Checks (login required) continue to be offered. There is now an additional option to access a health check through one’s own general practitioner (GP). Call 8396 0266 to further discuss this option.

Mental health and wellbeing supports for all staff

Staff will likely experience a range of emotions at different times. It’s important that school leaders reinforce that there are supports available and be open and available to staff to hear any questions or concerns they have. Ensuring staff feel heard can help create psychological safety in times of uncertainty.

Staff should be encouraged to utilise both formal and informal supports during this period.

Employee Assistance Program (EAP) and EAP Platform

If you or your family need support, personalised over-the-phone or video counselling is available 24/7 through the EAP. This service is available to all Department employees and their immediate families (aged 18 years and over). This now includes school council employees and casual relief teachers. Call 1300 361 008 to make a booking or book using the live chat function on the Lifeworks’ Australia website. For more information on video-counselling through EAP, please refer to Video Counselling Frequently Asked Questions.

You can also access and share content that is available through the Lifeworks EAP Platform (login required). You'll find support, guidance, information and strategies to manage issues relating to COVID-19, family, health, life and more (User ID: detvic; Password: detvic1).

Wellbeing webinars

Video highlights and tip sheets as part of the staying safe and well and leading for wellbeing series are still available. Topics include managing anxiety during COVID-19, safeguarding against burnout, switching on your growth mindset and more. The sessions provide practical mental health and wellbeing tips and strategies for use through COVID-19 and beyond.

Visit the Wellbeing Webinars intranet page (login required) to find the topics that will be most useful for you at this time.

Virtual gym

School staff can access a virtual gym, with free workouts, recipes and articles, run by Corporate Health Management (CHM) Healthstream. Visit the intranet article (login required) for more details.

Manager Assist

Extra support and guidance is available for people managers via the Employee Assistance Program's (EAP) Manager Assist. This telephone advisory service offers free advice and coaching to give leaders confidence when leading and supporting their teams. Available via telephone or video-conference, call 1300 361 008 to book.

myWellbeing pilot program

The myWellbeing pilot program aims to prevent sustained workplace mental health injuries and reduce the severity, duration and impact of these injuries. It offers staff three sessions with treating practitioners including psychologists, sleep specialists and trauma recovery counsellors to develop a tailored wellbeing program to support them to thrive at work and at home, and to improve the specific wellbeing challenges that they are facing with the support of specialised clinicians. myWellbeing is available to all Department staff — including corporate, regional, school leadership, teaching and educational support staff. To refer staff to myWellbeing or learn more about this program, contact the Employee Wellbeing Response team at employee.wellbeing.response.team@education.vic.gov.au

DET COVID-19 Hotline

The DET COVID-19 hotline is available for all staff to call with any questions relating to COVID-19 in schools. Call 1800 338 663.

Conflict Resolution Service

The Department's Conflict Resolution Services also remains available for staff and parent issues. Call 1300 687 633 to access the service.

Mental Health and Wellbeing Policy

Schools can access the Department’s Mental Health and Wellbeing Policy.

Occupational violence and aggression (OVA)

  • Principals should follow the Occupational Violence and Aggression in Schools Policy and Occupational Violence and Aggression in Schools Procedure and consider whether OVA risk controls need to be revised.
  • Increased channels of communication between teachers and parents highlights the need for positive and respectful behaviour. The school community has a shared responsibility for maintaining respectful school environments. Inappropriate behaviour towards school staff is never OK, including harassing communications on online platforms.
  • Principals should remind their school community of the shared responsibility for maintaining respectful school environments. Principals can use the template Statement of Values (login required), which sets out clear expectations for how members of the school community — principals, teachers, parents, students and visitors — should behave. This helps schools to manage conflict and ensure that staff are able to engage with parents, carers and students in a safe and respectful way.
  • Schools can take a preventative approach to dealing with challenging student behaviour by enrolling in Protective Intervention Training, which equips staff with the ability to prevent, de-escalate and manage behaviours of concern and offers strategies for reflection, analysis and debriefing following the behaviour.
  • If an incident occurs, refer to the new post-incident checklist which is designed to support the wellbeing impacts of school staff when they are responding to an OVA incident.
  • Staff should bring any issues to the attention of their principal and remember to debrief and access further support (such as EAP) if they have been affected physically or mentally. The Employee Wellbeing Response Team connects schools with training, supports and services they need for complex employee safety and wellbeing issues.

Managing injured workers and Return to Work Coordinator obligations

Workers' compensation claims data show that the longer an employee remains injured and away from work, the greater potential there is for secondary conditions, such as mental injury. The sooner a workplace can become involved in providing assistance with a staff member's recovery the sooner they will be back at work supporting students through continuity of learning.

Principals and Return to Work Coordinators should remain connected with their staff who may be unwell or injured at this time, particularly those on return to work or Workers Compensation arrangements.

The Employee Injury Management Framework has been developed to assist workplace managers navigate this process. The framework acts as a practical guide for early intervention, providing tips on supporting injured staff members along with return to work and rehabilitation whilst clearly defining roles and responsibilities for each staff member.

Guidance documents, templates and FAQs can be found at the Return to Work Coordinator Portal (login required). For COVID-19 specific resources, including a suitable duties register and frequently asked questions please see the COVID-19 resource page (login required) on the portal.

Principals needing to seek advice about a medical certificate (not associated with a workers compensation claim) can contact Employee Relations or the Medical Advisory Service (phone: 1300 495 559, or email: DET@injurynet.com.au).

For workers compensation matters, contact the Return to Work and Compensation team for support on 03 7022 0780.

Staff who are injured or on a workers’ compensation claim

Staff are encouraged to reach out to their Return to Work Coordinator or principal if they need any immediate support or assistance. Additionally, staff may contact their case manager at Gallagher Bassett and Occupational Rehabilitation provider if one has been assigned to them. Further information for employees on workers compensation claims during COVID-19 can be found on the Department and Gallagher Bassett FAQ document (login required).

Working alone, in isolation or from home

Information for Health and Safety Representatives

Supporting schools to be COVIDSafe

Health and safety representatives (HSRs) are an important link between school staff and school leaders. They are elected by colleagues in their designated work group (DWG) and have rights and responsibilities under the Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) Act 2004. They have a role in representing staff (both teaching and non-teaching) in relation to OHS issues that requires a resolution and they provide a mechanism to take unresolved issues further, if necessary. They can communicate with school leaders about health and safety concerns and co-operate with them to set up and maintain a working environment that is safe and without risks to health.

For detailed information on the role of the HSR please refer to the HSR Guide.

In the context of COVID-19, HSRs have a key role to play in consultation and implementation of health and safety guidance. Actions include:

  • consultation with staff in their DWG on the implementation of the school’s COVID-19 Safety Management Plan (COVIDSafe Plan) and any other health and safety matters
  • where risks are identified within their DWG, attempt to resolve the risks by using the OHS issue resolution flowchart. For COVID-19 related risks, HSRs can refer to the recommended controls and examples of practical solutions outlined in the COVID-19 Safety Management Plan (COVIDSafe Plan).
  • for COVID-19 related risks, HSRs can refer to the recommended controls and examples of practical solutions outlined in the COVID-19 Safety Management Plan (COVIDSafe Plan)
  • assist the Principal and/or Management OHS Nominee to communicate information about health and safety risk controls to all staff.
  • encourage staff to access supports for their mental health and wellbeing.

Additional support

  • HSRs are encouraged to read through the information on this page to gain a full understanding of the supports and resources available to enhance health, safety and wellbeing in schools.
  • Regional OHS Support Officers and the OHS Advisory Service are available to all employees and provide effective and timely advice on any aspect of workplace health, safety and wellbeing. Including but not limited to support and advice on the management of OHS hazards and risks and the implementation of controls. It provides support in conducting consultation and assistance in meeting OHS compliance and support during a WorkSafe Inspector visit.
  • HSRs may find the Wellbeing webinar video highlights and tip sheets (login required) for ‘Supporting your team’s mental health and wellbeing through times of uncertainty’ and ‘Having wellbeing conversations with peers’ useful. These resources will help develop skills to support colleagues who may be dealing with heightened emotions and to help create feelings of psychological safety in the workplace.
  • Manager Assist provides advice and support on a range of issues including approaching a difficult conversation with employees and managing the impact of mental health issues within the workplace. Call 1300 361 008 to book.
  • The Conflict Resolution Support Service is a useful resource if you are experiencing workplace conflict and finding it difficult to resolve. HSRs will need their principal’s approval to engage the service. Call 1300 687 633 to seek advice.
  • A variety of health and safety training is available. HSRs can select the training relevant to their role.
  • Whenever necessary, a HSR may seek assistance of any person, this includes WorkSafe inspectors and Union representatives and if they are a member, the Australian Education Union — Victorian Branch.

Information for Management OHS Nominees

Supporting schools to be COVIDSafe

The Management OHS Nominee is most commonly a member of the leadership team who should have general health and safety knowledge. In small schools in particular, this function is often held by the principal. They must have the necessary authority to resolve OHS issues and are the person in the workplace responsible for the duties of the employer. They have a role in assisting the workplace manager, usually the principal, in the operational aspects of health and safety in schools.

Management OHS Nominees play an important role as part of the Safe and Well in Education Framework, with reference to the increased health and safety supports available to schools under the Safe and Well in Education Strategy.

In the context of COVID-19, the Management OHS Nominee should support the school principal and any workplace manager in the below actions:

  • Implement health and safety guidance and actions as outlined in the School Operations Guide (login required) and COVID-19 Safety Management Plan (COVIDSafe Plan).
  • Create consistent consultation mechanisms with HSRs (or with all staff if the school doesn’t have a HSR) on any health and safety matters, through existing forums such as Health and Safety Committee meetings, or agenda items in general staff meetings or other forums.
  • Manage the OHS Noticeboard and ensure the COVIDSafe Roles and Responsibilities posters (login required) are displayed detailing the shared responsibility of health and safety in schools and health and safety measures that should be applied in schools. Regularly review this information to ensure it is current and replacing when it becomes outdated.
  • Monitor and manage the schools supply of personal protective equipment. Schools can purchase items using the COS platform and can contact school.procurement@education.vic.gov.au for any further enquiries.
  • Monitor and manage the supply of hand sanitiser.
  • Display posters and signage at appropriate locations to support compliance with hygiene and physical distancing measures. Resources available in the Communications Support Pack (login required).
  • Ensure all employees use the eduSafe Plus reporting system to report any incidents, hazards or near misses, in addition to notifying the workplace manager, management OHS nominee and/or HSR. Regularly review this data to respond to emerging incidents and identify trends.
  • Encourage staff to access supports for their mental health and wellbeing as outlined in the Mental health and wellbeing supports for staff section of this page. Management OHS Nominees are also reminded to support their own wellbeing by accessing the resources and supports available for all staff.
Guidance chapter of the OHSMS containing information on COVID-19 employee health, safety and wellbeing supports for schools, including information on COVID Safe Plans for government schools

Reviewed 14 April 2021

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