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Home > News > 2020 > April > Your workplace health and safety rights during COVID-19

Your workplace health and safety rights during COVID-19

kindy_teacher.jpgLooking after our student’s education and wellbeing will be at the forefront of the minds of all early childhood education teachers and assistance as we continue to face the challenges of COVID-19 – making the workplace health and safety for the whole kindergarten community a major priority.

IEUA-QNT Senior Industrial Officer John Spriggs said early childhood education employees face additional challenges during this pandemic because they are in close contact with young children who are less likely to understand the importance of physical distancing and practicing good hygiene than older children.  

“Teachers and assistants working in kindergartens must remember to look after themselves”, John said.

Employers have a legal obligation

Under workplace health and safety laws, employers must ensure the health and safety of their employees, and others at the workplace, as far as is reasonably practicable.  

The Australian Health Protection Principal Committee (AHPPC) has provided the following risk-mitigation strategies for employees in the early childhood education sector.

• Avoid the mixing of children by separating cohorts and staggering meal breaks and play time between different groups.

• Exclude staff, children and visitors who are showing symptoms of illness.

• Encourage regular handwashing, cough and sneeze covering and general hygiene best practice for children.

• Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces and frequently used objects.

• Open windows to circulate fresh air or adjust the air conditioning.

• Encourage staff, children and visitors to abide by physical distancing recommendations.

“Employers must, for example, have appropriate policies, procedures and practices in relation to the above points,” John said. 

“They must ensure that adequate cleaning occurs, and that employees have access to appropriate supplies such as hand sanitiser. 

“Where an employee has a reasonable concern that to carry out their work would expose them to a serious risk to their health or safety (emanating from exposure to a risk in the workplace) – then the employee can cease work, or refuse to carry out the risky work.  

“That is the employee’s right under workplace health and safety legislation. 

“In these circumstances, the employee must advise the employer, and be available to carry out suitable alternative work,” John said.   

In the instance of a reasonable health and safety risk, members should advise their employer of the risk. 

If it is not addressed, members should contact our union immediately as they have the right to alternative safe work or to cease the work which involves the risk.  

Authorised by Terry Burke, Independent Education Union of Australia – Queensland & Northern Territory Branch, Brisbane.