Call to address root of work-related psychological injuries

A government Bill before the NSW Parliament falls drastically short of addressing the key work health and safety issues experienced by members in schools and TAFE colleges, Federation has argued in its submission to an Upper House inquiry into the provisions of the proposed Bill.

The Work Health and Safety Amendment (Review) Bill 2019 was introduced into the NSW Legislative Assembly late last year and seeks to make minor but positive amendments to work health and safety laws.

The provisions were recommendations of the 2018 national review into work health and safety led by Marie Boland, to which Federation made a detailed submission.

In a somewhat unsurprising move, the Liberals and Nationals have not sought to introduce the more meaningful and urgent reforms proposed by the Boland review and supported by Federation.

The union’s submission focused on the absence in the Work Health and Safety Act of specific regulations or codes of practice associated with psychosocial risk factors such as workplace bullying, violence in the workplace and work-related psychological injury.

In Ms Boland’s final report, she recommended the urgent development of additional regulations on how to identify psychosocial risks in the workplace and the appropriate control measures to manage those risks.

Data from the 2019 People Matter Survey illustrates once again the high levels of stress experienced by teachers and the prevalence of bullying in the public education sector.

Survey questions

Agreement of teachers

I am able to keep my stress at an acceptable level


I believe action will be taken on the results of this survey by my organisation


I have confidence in the way my organisation resolves grievances


In the last 12 months I have witnessed bullying


In the last 12 months I have been subject to bullying at work


The number of respondents from NSW public schools to the 2019 survey was 16,969.

The national 2018 Principal Wellbeing Survey showed the prevalence rate for “threats of violence” was extremely high at 45 per cent of those surveyed. “Actual physical violence” prevalence was an alarming 37 per cent — that’s one in three principals reporting being physically assaulted at work.

Poor staff wellbeing is not restricted to schools. TAFE NSW Organisational Health 2019 Survey Results found only 15 per cent of 6773 staff who completed the survey agreed with the statement that TAFE NSW has effective plans for developing and retaining its people.

The Local Schools, Local Decisions policy has imposed excessive workload demands on principals, executive and teachers particularly around “compliance” and so called “accountability” requirements.

Responsibility has been devolved to principals, executive and teachers without the necessary resources. This top down, hierarchical approach undermines genuine collegiality, and collaboration, as well as dignity and respect in the workplace.

Boland wrote in Review of the model Work Health and Safety laws: Final report (December 2018): “To date, where there has been a focus on psychological health as a WHS [work health and safety] issue, it has tended to be linked to widely recognised and acknowledged psychosocial hazards such as bullying and harassment. However, this has too often led to the individualisation of these complaints, their diversion into grievance processes and the removal of the original basis for the complaint from any assessment of the broader WHS organisational safety culture.”

While it is unlikely that the NSW Government will agree to any significant amendments to the Bill, both the Upper House inquiry and the subsequent parliamentary debate presents an opportunity for workers and their unions to make the case for forcing employers, including the Department, to address the root causes of work-related psychological injuries.