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Primary school inspection program reveals hazardous substance concerns

Tuesday, 3 September, 2019 - 14:15
Industry news
National News

A proactive inspection program looking at safety issues in WA primary schools has raised concerns over failure to comply with workplace safety laws on hazardous substances.

During the inspection program, inspectors looked at safety issues for workers such as cleaners, handypersons and gardeners, and also focused on the management of violence and aggression.

The program was undertaken because of the high rate of injuries in the sector, particularly soft tissue injuries to lower backs, but the program raised additional concerns, said WorkSafe WA Director Sally North.

“The statistics showed that the sector had a high number of soft tissue injuries, most often caused by falls on the same level and muscular stress while handling objects, but inspectors also found worryingly low levels of compliance with the laws applying to hazardous substances in workplaces,” North said.

Inspectors visited 53 primary schools as part of the program, issuing 239 Improvement Notices, one Prohibition Notice and 37 verbal directions.

More than half of the improvement notices issued (141 notices) related to hazardous substances, with 42 relating to a lack of assessment of hazardous substances, 40 to not providing training, 30 to registers than needed to be updated and 18 to unlabelled containers holding chemical substances.

An additional combined total of 40 notices were issued relating to muscular stress and slips, trips and falls.

“WorkSafe’s inspectors had not looked in detail at cleaners, handypersons and gardeners at schools for some time,” North said.

“Cleaners are often injured in slips, trips and falls, and also while undertaking manual tasks. They also need to be trained in the hazardous substances they deal with.

“Gardeners also need to be adequately trained in the hazardous substances they work with, and both cleaners and gardeners may lack information about infectious diseases, handling sharps and the like.

“This inspection program has certainly highlighted the safety issues around hazardous substances that exist in primary schools in WA.

“The results of this inspection program have been shared with the relevant stakeholders in education, including the Department of Education, so we will monitor the statistics in this sector and maintain contact with the stakeholders to see if we can improve compliance in the areas where it is needed.”