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Ask Renata

Hi Renata, 
I am actually asking for a friend... he is having significant safety issues at his work (a school with fairly disruptive kids) and has been told that "A child's right to education trumps an employees right to a safe workplace".

I am speechless at this – do you have any recommendations?

No, I don't think that is legally correct (keeping in mind that I am not a lawyer).

The employer – in this case the school – has duties to both the students and the employees, and can't just ignore the duties to employees over the 'rights' of students.

The duties under the OHS Act are limited by 'so far as is reasonably practicable'. So while the easiest way to eliminate the risk of disruptive students to teachers would be to eliminate these students from the school (one way or another! 😉), this is clearly not 'reasonably practicable'.

However this does not mean that employer can just do nothing and because the students must receive an education, put the health and safety of the staff at risk. The employer must take action to minimise the risks to the staff: by developing and implement controls. Some examples might be policies and procedures to prevent incidents or which kick in once an incident occurs, isolating students, training, etc. Further, the identification and control of risks must be done in consultation with the elected HSR (and with the affected employees too if there's no HSR, or if this is the best way to go),

This is an issue many schools are grappling with, and there are lots of things that can and must be done….

If your friend is a member of the relevant union (hopefully he is!) then I strongly recommend that he contact the union for assistance and advice.

Please send any OHS related queries in to Ask Renata - your query will be responded to as quickly as we can – usually within a couple of days.

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International union news
India: Stone carvers demand silicosis protection 
Hundreds of stonemasons took to the streets of Pindwara on 1 May, to protest at the deadly dust risks facing the workers building India's temples. Union leader Ganesh, 31, was diagnosed with the frequently fatal lung scarring disease silicosis at the age of 29. He is unable to walk more than a hundred metres and struggles for breath while talking. Despite his failing health, Ganesh came out to lead the rally because he said he wants to ensure that other workers do not suffer like him.

Pindwara is home to about 230 factories that have built some of India's most famous temples. On May Day, 400 workers occupied the streets of Pindwara's RIICO – the industrial area where the biggest of these factories are located. The workers had one rallying cry – freedom from the occupational disease of silicosis.

According to the Sirohi district's health department, over 1,650 of these temple-building workers are dying after contracting the untreatable lung disease. Workers' advocates say this is an under-estimate, as screening for the disease only started in the area three years ago. Addressing the rally, union founder member Sohan Lal said: "We stone-carvers are builders of famous temples in Delhi, Ahmedabad, London, New York, Australia. Rich and famous people visit these temples and enjoy the fruits of our labour, while we die of silicosis in big numbers in anonymity. Last year prime minister Modi laid the foundation of Swaminarayan's latest temple project in Abu Dhabi. But what about us, the workers who are building this temple here in Pindwara and are dying in the process?" Sohan Lal is one of the 1,000 workers in Pindwara that formed the union, Pathar Gadhai Mazdoor Suraksha Sangh, to bring the issue of death in India's temple-building industry to light. The union successfully pressured the district and state health departments to hold regular health camps for Pindwara's stone carvers, with screening results suggesting four in every 10 have silicosis. The union says employers routinely violate safety rules, arguing they have provided masks and so it is the workers' fault if they fall ill. However, a union-run research project, where workers measured dust levels in 30 factories and monitored workers' lung capacity, found dust levels several times the official limit. Over 70 per cent of workers had "highly compromised" lung capacity. Read more: The Wire. Source: Risks 896

USA: Unions take on violence in health and social care 
While workplace violence is a serious and growing problem for all workers in the US, incidents in health and social care are far outpacing those in other industries, a union has warned. The union USW noted that a lack of preventive measures combined with the increasingly profit-driven nature of the US health care system is resulting in problems like unsafe staffing levels that contribute to the trend. The union said this "foreseeable and preventable" problem impacts anyone who works directly in health care or social services, anyone who is a patient, and anyone who visits or accompanies a patient. "This is why we are launching a nationwide action to push for the Workplace Violence Prevention for Health Care and Social Service Workers Act," the union added. "This bill would direct the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to ensure these workplaces develop and implement violence prevention plans." The union's HQ has distributed packages of postcards, for the attention of US senators and the Secretary of Labor and detailing USW's demands, to be sent in by thousands of union members nationwide. "This is a solvable problem, but it will take action like this to get it done," the union said. Read more: USW news release. Source: Risks 896

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