School operations

Structured Workplace Learning

Student safety and welfare

A principal must be satisfied that the student has the capacity to undertake a structured workplace learning placement without exposing themselves or others in the workplace to any unreasonable level of risk.

The protection of the health, moral and material welfare, safety and wellbeing of students undertaking structured workplace learning is of paramount importance to the department. This section lists a number of industries, activities, plant and equipment and workplace hazards which present unreasonable risks to students’ health and safety and/or which require extensive training or experience to perform safely, and are therefore prohibited or restricted for structured workplace learning students. The lists are not exhaustive, but are intended to support principals to fulfil their duty of care responsibilities when entering into structured workplace learning arrangements.

School staff, employers and workplace supervisors need to be aware that structured workplace learning students:

  • are still developing physically, cognitively and emotionally and that there may be tasks that are beyond their current capabilities
  • are inexperienced and less skilled than older workers and unaware of workplace risks
  • may not have the confidence to ask questions or speak up for fear of looking incapable
  • may neglect their own health and safety in their enthusiasm to impress others.

Child safe standards

To create and maintain a child safe organisation, all Victorian schools must comply with Ministerial Order 1359 – Implementing the Child Safe Standards – Managing the risk of child abuse in schools (PDF)External Link .

The Child Safe Standards require schools to develop and implement risk management strategies to ensure students’ safety in the school environment. The school environment includes workplace learning environments where students undertake work experience, structured workplace learning, school community work (volunteering) and school based apprenticeships and traineeships.

The department has developed the following resources to support schools to comply with the requirements and implement risk management strategies prior to students undertaking structured workplace learning:

  • Child Safe Standards and Workplace Learning: A Guide for Schools
  • Fact Sheet for Employers: Child Safe Standards and Workplace Learning

These resources are available from the Resources tab.

For more information, visit the PROTECT websiteExternal Link .

Unacceptable behaviour in the workplace

Under Victorian law (Equal Opportunity Act 2010 (Vic), Racial and Religious Tolerance Act 2001 (Vic)) and Commonwealth law (Racial Discrimination Act 1975, Sex Discrimination Act 1984 and Disability Discrimination Act 1992) it is unlawful for employers and educational authorities to sexually harass, victimise or discriminate against employees and students. There should be an adequate level of supervision to ensure the safety and welfare of the student in a non-discriminatory and harassment free working environment.

Bullying, harassment and violence must not be tolerated in the workplace. Structured Workplace Learning Coordinators and other relevant staff should familiarise themselves with issues related to harassment, bullying and occupational violence. The information which follows aims to guide practitioners towards identifying forms of workplace harassment and bullying, and offers strategies and guidance to assist in the development of appropriate policies in this regard.

Employers have legal responsibilities to do as much as is reasonably practicable to eliminate or reduce risks to employees’ health and safety. Employees also have legal responsibilities about how they behave toward others in the workplace. Unfortunately, harassment of different kinds does take place in some workplaces, as does bullying in various forms.

Harassment and bullying are acts connected to the abuse of power: the less power a person has in a workplace, the more likely the chance of harassment. A structured workplace learning student is often the least powerful person in a workplace and therefore could be highly vulnerable.

Forms of harassment, bullying and occupational violence

Harassment (including sexual harassment) can take many different forms. It can be physical or verbal abuse, requests for sexual favours or assault. It can be behaviour which offends, humiliates or intimidates the victim. Forms of harassment include (but are not limited to) sexual innuendo, comments about looks or body parts, asking for dates, enquiries into a person’s sexual activities, displays of pornography or material of a sexual nature, posters, magazines, photographs or screen savers on computers.

Bullying is generally defined as repeated unreasonable behaviour directed toward an employee (or group of employees) and creating a risk to their health and safety.

Bullying or harassment can take the form of assigning inappropriate duties, name calling, threatening behaviour, shouting or general intimidation such as exclusion or isolation.

Occupational violence is generally defined as any incident where a person is physically attacked or threatened in the workplace. Occupational violence can include the physical acts of pushing, hitting, slapping or grabbing of clothing.

All harassment and bullying should be treated in the same manner by schools, whether the harassment or bullying is prohibited by law or not. Some incidents of bullying and harassment may be illegal under criminal law. If so, students have the right to involve the police.

How does harassment and bullying occur?

A student may be harassed or bullied in a number of ways: by a manager or supervisor, by other employees, by contractors, by customers – or in cases where more than one student is employed, by other students. The incidence of structured workplace learning students harassing other workers is quite rare. The school and the employer are responsible for taking all reasonable steps to protect structured workplace learning students from harassment.

The most common form of harassment is male to female sexual harassment, but this is not the only kind. Sexual harassment can also take place male to male, female to male and female to female.

Where can harassment, bullying and occupational violence happen?

Harassment, bullying and occupational violence can take place in any setting, potentially anywhere that work takes place and are not necessarily more likely in some workplaces than others.

Particular care should be taken when placing a student in a residential situation, i.e. students working on distant farms where residential accommodation may be the norm, or when the student has an employer who works from the relative privacy of a home office.

If the principal has permitted the employer to engage more than one student for every three employees, the principal must be satisfied that the placement will not be detrimental to the health or welfare of any student in that workplace and the student must be visited as frequently as is reasonably practicable.

Students should be instructed to never drink alcohol while on a placement, even in social situations.

Responsibilities to protect students

Schools have a responsibility to ‘take all reasonable steps’ to protect students on structured workplace learning from harassment and bullying. ‘All reasonable steps’ may include:

  • ensuring that the whole school community understands the school’s policy and procedures on sexual harassment and bullying
  • organising the structured workplace learning to protect students from possible harassment and bullying
  • visiting the workplace where possible, and discussing the school’s policy and procedures with the employer.

Note: Structured Workplace Learning Coordinators and other relevant staff should note that taking ‘all reasonable steps’ may involve actions before, during and after structured workplace learning.

Should a structured workplace learning student report harassment, bullying or occupational violence the school must be able to demonstrate that it has clear policies and a working set of written procedures to deal with these matters. These documents should be forwarded to each party involved in the student’s structured workplace learning prior to the placement commencing.

Procedures for dealing with harassment, bullying or occupational violence should include step-by-step instruction on what is required to protect students on structured workplace learning, and should include the written endorsement of the principal. Employers can also be vicariously liable should a sexual harassment complaint be made. This should be pointed out at interviews with prospective employers.

Wherever possible, the workplace should be visited. Discussions should occur with supervisors and observations made about the culture of the workplace, including language, the way people relate to each other, and the suitability of posters, magazines, screen savers that students may see while on placement.

It is not safe to assume that workplaces do not change from year to year. A new supervisor may change the workplace culture. Among the issues discussed with potential employers should be the prevention of harassment and bullying of the student. Discussion should include the standards the school expects of the workplace and processes to deal with harassment and bullying should they arise. It is understood, of course, that this possibility should be raised with tact and sensitivity.

All school staff involved in administering structured workplace learning programs and students should receive information about harassment and bullying, in particular as it relates to structured workplace learning. This information should include the many different forms that harassment and bullying can take, where it may occur, who it happens to, how it affects victims, and how it should be dealt with. The role of the Structured Workplace Learning Coordinator and the school in dealing with these matters should be clearly outlined to the student. The Workplace Learning Toolbox contains a video about bullying and sexual harassment which can be used to support students preparing to undertake structured workplace learning.

Schools should have a process that empowers the student to respond immediately to the harassment and bullying if it occurs. The student must understand that if they are made uncomfortable during their structured workplace learning, they have the right to leave the workplace immediately. Bags and other belongings can be collected at a later time. If the student does leave the workplace, they should notify their school immediately.

Handling incidences of harassment, bullying or occupational violence

Strategies that students may use in response to incidences of harassment, bullying or occupational violence include:

  • expressing dislike of their treatment to their harasser(s)
  • reporting their treatment to other people at the workplace – co-workers, supervisors or managers
  • reporting their treatment to parents/carers
  • reporting their treatment to their Structured Workplace Learning Coordinator, principal, or other relevant school staff
  • in matters of sexual harassment, making a complaint under the Equal Opportunity Act 1995.

Note: Under no circumstances should a student be expected to deal with incidences of harassment, bullying or occupational violence by themselves.

Schools should have a process for dealing with structured workplace learning students who report incidences of harassment, bullying or occupational violence. This process should involve the following elements:

  • Each complaint should be accepted at face value.
  • Concerns and/or complaints must be acted upon without delay.
  • In the first instance, care should be taken to address the welfare of the student rather than the facts of the matter – 'Are you OK?' is a better response than 'Were there any witnesses?'
  • If appropriate, conciliation may take place between the employer, the student and the school. This should not involve the parties necessarily being in the one room at the same time. If agreement can be reached between the parties, this should be recorded and followed accordingly.
  • Where conciliation is inappropriate or not possible, the school should attempt to investigate the complaint to the extent possible.
  • All evidence relevant to the complaint should be given to the principal for assessment. If the principal is of the belief that the evidence sustains the complaint, a decision should be made about the on-going relationship with the employer. In some cases, further placements will need to be closely monitored, while in others the relationship will be suspended or terminated.

At the completion of the structured workplace learning program, the school should conduct a debriefing process wherein each student has opportunity to comment on their experiences during their placement. Each student should also have the opportunity to raise any issues privately with the Structured Workplace Learning Coordinator or other relevant staff member without other students being present.

Each student must be contacted while on their placement to ensure that they are experiencing no difficulties as a result of the behaviour of other people.

Occupational health and safety preparation

A principal must be satisfied that a student is either undertaking or has completed OHS training prior to commencing structured workplace learning as follows:

  • where a student is undertaking structured workplace learning as part of a VET program within Victorian Certificate of Education (VCE) including the VCE Vocational Major, or the Victorian Pathways Certificate – the principal must be satisfied that the student is undertaking, or has completed the OHS training unit of competency within the VET program
  • where a student is undertaking structured workplace learning which is not related to their VET program within VCE including the VCE Vocational Major, or the Victorian Pathways Certificate – the principal must be satisfied that the student has completed an OHS program required by the department as follows:
    • if the student is undertaking VCE Industry and Enterprise – they must complete safe@workExternal Link
    • if the student is undertaking structured workplace learning to complement an applied learning program as part of the VCE Vocational Major or the Victorian Pathways Certificate – they must complete safe@work.

Once a student is placed in a workplace, the employer has a duty of care to provide and maintain a working environment that is safe and without risks to health – this includes both physical and psychological health.

A responsible employer will conduct regular workplace hazard inspections and implement a program of effective risk controls, understood by everyone in the workplace. Warning signs should be displayed prominently wherever they are required, and the meaning of the signs must be made known to employees and visitors, including students.

As part of induction into the workplace on the first day of the placement, the employer should explain to the student what hazards are present in the workplace, why risk controls are in place and how they are put into practice. Employers must also nominate a supervisor to provide direct supervision of a student while they are undertaking work related activities.

Students should be told that if they have any concerns, such as not knowing how to use equipment or feeling that a task may involve a risk to their safety, they must speak to their supervisor before proceeding. Safety must always be the employer’s, and the student’s, first priority.

Construction induction training

Under the Occupational Health and Safety Regulations 2007, an employer must ensure that anyone employed to do construction work (including students placed with an employer under a workplace learning arrangement made under the Education and Training Reform Act 2006) has completed construction induction training before they start work. Construction induction training aims to provide people new to construction work with an understanding of:

  • their rights and responsibilities under OHS law
  • common hazards and risks in the construction industry
  • basic risk management principles
  • the standard of behaviour expected of workers on construction sites.

The construction induction training must be provided by a registered training organisation (RTO). Construction induction cards are issued by WorkSafe Victoria following receipt of evidence of satisfactory completion of the course from the RTO and proof of identity. Construction induction cards issued by WorkSafe Victoria are recognised nationally.

For further information about construction induction card requirements or to locate a RTO, please contact WorkSafe Victoria’s Advisory ServiceExternal Link

For further information about what is considered to be construction work, and how to meet health and safety requirements on construction sites, please refer to the following WorkSafe Victoria publications:

Dangerous plant and hazardous equipment

Students must not use plant or equipment that pose an unacceptable risk to their health or safety, or that require extensive training or experience to use safely.

Students are permitted to use the listed plant or equipment only if they are explicitly required in the performance criteria or assessment requirements of a unit of competency the student is undertaking as part of a VET qualification. Employers must provide students with the relevant health and safety induction and any activities must be carried out under direct supervision.

  • Abrasive blasting equipment
  • Brush cutters with attached metal blades
  • Buzzers
  • Chainsaws
  • Compressed air power tools
  • Elevating work platforms
  • Explosive power tools
  • Firearms
  • Gas-fuelled cutting equipment
  • Guillotines (manual and electric-operated)
  • Jackhammers
  • Lathes
  • Nail guns
  • Petrol sales consoles
  • Plastic moulding machines
  • Power presses (unless the press has laser guarding or a remote control, and training and close supervision are provided)
  • Power saws, including docking saws, circular saws and buzz-saws
  • Power wood shapers
  • Powered cutting or grinding tools (excluding those used for key cutting and engraving on items such as trophies)
  • Powered lifting equipment
  • Powered mobile plant or vehicles (students must never be permitted to drive any vehicle or mobile plant while on work experience, including tractors, forklifts, all-terrain vehicles, ride-on mowers, bulldozers, excavators and skidders)
  • Rubbish compactors
  • Scaffolding
  • Sharp objects and cutting equipment (not including scissors and secateurs sold for general use)
  • Spindle moulders
  • Thicknessers
  • Ultraviolet (UV) equipment
  • Welding, brazing and open flame soldering equipment

Note: This is not an exhaustive list.

Workplace hazards

Students must not be exposed to workplace hazards that could harm their health or safety such as:

  • biological/medical hazards (for example, exposure to needles in syringes or other ‘sharps’, to blood or other body fluids, Legionella bacteria)
  • bullying, occupational violence, work-related stress, sexual harassment and discrimination
  • confined spaces (‘confined space’ is defined as a space in any vat, tank, pit, pipe, duct, flue, oven, chimney, silo, reaction vessel, container, receptacle, underground sewer or well or any shaft, trench, tunnel or other similar enclosed or partially enclosed structure that meets conditions specified in the Occupational Health and Safety Regulations 2007 (refer to WorkSafe Compliance code: Confined spacesExternal Link ))
  • debris (for example, waste material generated by milling or grinding operations)
  • electrical hazards associated with faulty, unsuitable or inappropriately placed leads, electrically powered plant or equipment, contact with live underground or overhead cables
  • excessive noise
  • exposure to asbestos fibres in areas where damaged and/or friable (‘friable asbestos’ means asbestos that when dry, may be crumbled, pulverised or reduced to powder by hand pressure) asbestos-containing materials are known to be present
  • exposure to occupational sources of ionising radiation (such as X-ray machines)
  • exposure to non-ionising radiation hazards (associated with devices such as UV sterilising equipment and laser devices)
  • exposure to high-pressure liquids or gases (associated with gas cylinders, compressed air tools, boilers and pressure piping)
  • exposure to hazardous substances (‘hazardous substances’ are regulated by the Occupational Health and Safety Regulations 2007 and classified on the basis of their health effects, both immediate and long-term, such as chemicals, flammable liquids or gases that can cause cancer, skin disease, poisoning or respiratory illness) and dangerous goods (‘dangerous goods’ are regulated by the Dangerous Goods (Storage and Handling) Regulations 2012 and can have immediate physical or chemical effects – such as fire, explosion, corrosion and poisoning – on property, the environment or people)
  • extremes of heat or cold that could result in physical harm through illness or impaired performance
  • falling objects (such as objects falling from platforms, loads slung from cranes)
  • falls from, or collisions with, forklifts or mobile plants
  • falls from heights
  • hazardous manual handling involving the application of repetitive, sustained and/or high force, awkward postures or movements, exposure to sustained vibration, manual handling of people or animals, manual handling of unstable loads that are difficult to grasp or hold
  • impalement hazards, such as protruding angle iron
  • plant hazards including moving machinery or equipment, unguarded machinery in which clothing, hair, limbs or fingers could get caught, cut or crushed
  • trenching and excavation operations, including digging of post holes.

Note: This is not an exhaustive list.

Chapter in the Structured Workplace Learning Guidelines on student safety and welfare, including information on the Child Safe Standards, workplace behaviour, OHS training and workplace hazards

Reviewed 14 April 2023

Was this page helpful?