Understanding duty of care
In an increasingly litigious society, it is essential all members are aware of their rights and responsibilities when it comes to duty of care - especially if employers direct school officers to undertake tasks that fall outside their position descriptions.
School officers can sometimes find themselves in situations where they are responsible for the supervision of students without a teacher or member of administration present.
This can occur when principals or others delegate school officers to look after students in a classroom, on an excursion or during playground duty.
In situations where school officers are directed to undertake duties outside their role description, and they do not feel confident being assigned with this duty, our union advises to contact the school in writing.
The written statement should inform the principal or person issuing the direction that they do not feel they possess the required skills, knowledge and experience to undertake the duty.
It is also important to reiterate that this poses a potential risk to student safety. When students participate in activities where there are risks present, it is crucial they are minimised and students warned of possible dangers.
It is equally important to notify the employer about potential risks to minimise liability.
Issues that arise
Duty of care encompasses:
- Taking reasonable care for the safety of students;
- Providing safe grounds and equipment; and
- Taking reasonable action to prevent students from suffering injury from the actions of the student(s) using the equipment.
An employee also owes a duty of care to the students under their direct control.
This duty of care applies irrespective of whether the employee is engaged in playground duty, coaching sport or supervising a classroom.
What does the law say?
There are a number of legal precedents which state that a duty of care is owed by the school to students under its care.
This duty is ‘non-delegable’ which means that even though the school authority may delegate the task of the direct supervision of students to a specific person, the school authority remains legally responsible for the safety of the school at all times.
The law does not require school officers to predict and prevent every accident from occurring but to exercise a level of care commensurate with what a “reasonable person” would exercise.
If a school officer is willing to undertake such duties, training should be provided to equip the school officer with the skills they need to assume the required duty.
Such training should cover:
- Duty of care;
- Levels of responsibility;
- Procedures for reporting incidents;
- Lines of support and authority;
- Identification of potential hazard areas within the supervision areas;
- Methodology of supervising and giving instruction to students; and
- Workplace Health and Safety.
After completing the training, each school officer should be presented with appropriate documentation acknowledging the training and skills attained.
Using untrained staff in any educational context places the school and the individual staff member at risk of litigation.
What happens if an injury occurs?
The employer must have a policy and protocol in place to follow when a student is injured.
As part of such processes an employee will invariably be requested to make a formal statement.
Members should seek advice from our union before supplying any statement.
IEUA-QNT members are covered by our Public Liability and Professional Indemnity Insurance as part of member benefits and legal advice is available.
This article was extracted from the September 2016 edition of Independent Voice.