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Back to School plan and safety at work

Last week, after the Sunday announcement by the Premier of the Back to School plan, your union lodged a dispute in the Queensland Industrial Relations Commission, with the United Workers Union (UWU) about the lack of consultation around the Plan.

As this is a significant issue of safety at work, there should be a risk assessment undertaken to mitigate risks as much as is practicable. On Friday, the Department advised that this had not occurred regarding the Back to School plan.

It is very disappointing that the legislative requirement to undertake a risk assessment in these circumstances was not done prior to the Plan's announcement last Sunday. Following the dispute Together and UWU lodged in the Commission, the Department is now conducting a risk assessment with unions. There is now an opportunity to ensure concerns are raised, documented and control measures put in place. You can read the recommendations made by Commissioner Knight in our dispute here.

Every school is different, which means the risks, and control measures, will be different as well. Local WHS Representatives and workers should be consulted regarding matters that affect your safety and wellbeing at work. You can read more about risk assessments here.

Some risks that members have raised are: use of sick bays or other facilities to isolate symptomatic students (including PPE requirements for staff monitoring these students); ventilation or social distancing in school offices; prep rooms being used as thoroughfares, and others. 

Members can also lodge a form here if you are concerned with how local WHS consultation and risk assessments have occurred – or not occurred at all – at your school, and you have outstanding concerns.

The news coming out of NSW and Victoria indicates that thousands of cases have been caught through those states' surveillance testing regime. Catching cases before students and staff spend time in schools is critical to stopping the spread.

Currently, the Department does not have access to the number of RATs that would be required for twice-weekly surveillance testing. Supply of RATs is an issue across the board and Together recognizes this reality. However, in the coming weeks supply will increase and we are seeking that the Department’s policy reflects this and increases access of employer-supplied RATs to staff in circumstances other than just when they are symptomatic at work, at which point COVID may have already spread to co-workers and other members of the school community.

The recommendation from Commissioner Knight was that "the Department take all reasonable steps to clarify and consider the proposed framework dealing with the provision of rapid antigen tests in schools advanced by Together and UWU." There will be further discussions with the Department this week.

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