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Shifting Frames of Mind on OHS/WHS in Early Childhood Services - Setting the scene.

I would like to start this series by stating that, until 9 years ago, I was a Kindergarten teacher for 25 years before I became a consultant.   As an Early Childhood professional, I would like to acknowledge the fear and anxiety that many of you, working in early childhood services will currently be experiencing each day as you head off to work.  I want you to know that I stand in solidarity with you and thank you for being courageous in this new frontier. I further acknowledge the important work you are doing with our youngest citizens.

Before we elaborate on the Occupational Health and Safety (OHS)(Victoria only) and the Work Health and Safety (WHS) rights and responsibilities of both employers and employees during this pandemic, we need to point out that this series of blogs will only be addressing the legislation regarding health and safety issues for employees, not the health and safety issues for children.  While these two paradigms often coincide, we will focus on the current health and safety concerns of staff.

We also want to point out that although OHS/WHS issues can fall into the remit of Human Resource Managers, this series will not address the issues of whether or not employees are required to work by your employer, which may fall into the category of Industrial Relations but rather we will address health and safety in the workplace if you are required to work by your employer.

The current legislation that governs an employer’s legal responsibilities in the Australian Capital Territory, New South Wales, Northern Territory, Queensland, South Australia, and Tasmania is the Work Health and Safety Act 2011.  Victoria is currently operating under the Occupational Health and Safety Act, 2004 and Western Australia is currently transitioning from the Occupational Safety and Health Act, 1984 to a modernised Work Health and Safety Bill that passed through the Legislative Assembly of the Western Australian Parliament on 20 February, 2020.

The most recent national legislation commenced in most states in 2012 and changed some of the terminologies that had existed in previous legislation.

Some of the changes in terminology that we will use interchangeably in this series are listed below:

  • employers – the term ‘employers’ changed to ‘persons conducting a business or undertaking’ (PCBU)
  • employees – the term ‘employees’ changed to ‘workers’
  • workplace – a place where work is carried out for a business or undertaking, and includes any place where a worker goes, or is likely to be, while at work.

Before we move onto the next instalment of this blog series, leaders, managers and staff must ask themselves,

  • What do I know about the OHS/WHS legislation?
  • Am I aware of my obligations and responsibilities under this legislation?
  • What does this mean in an Early Childhood service?
  • How do my obligations change during a pandemic?

Managers of education and care centres, early learning centres, occasional care services, family day care services, out of school hours care services, schools and any other services concerned with the education and care of children must ensure that they are familiar with the current legislation related to OHS/WHS as it applies in their State or Territory.

Kerrie O’Neill M.ED (Early Childhood), Certificate IV Occupational Health and Safety. (Written in consultation with a highly qualified and experienced OHS/WHS Consultant)