Razor sharp blades, sanders, and drills can create the perfect storm for a work-place accident; industry stats alone suggest workshop-based professions have the highest injury rate. So when Australia’s school children enter hazardous workshops with little
DESIGN and Technology has been a core pillar of the Australian curriculum for years, encompassing everything from woodwork to electronics and metalwork classes.
While each discipline may differ in content, Design & Technology classes all pose various risks as students as young as 12 depart the relative safe quarters of the classroom and enter workshop environments for the very first time.
Replacing the typical pencils, pens, calculators and rulers found in classrooms are high tech and complex tools and machinery.
But with all new environments comes the subsequent lessons; and in this case the first and foremost involves safety.
For some, workshop classes are the beginning of a life-long career in a trade, introducing students to occupational health and safety systems they will later find in the workplace.
For others, the classes promote the development of problem-solving, creative thinking and experimentation with technologies to manage and produce projects; skills they will carry onto their chosen field.
According to the Australian Curriculum, by the end of Year 10 students will have had the opportunity to design and create at least four designed solutions focussed on one or more of the five disciplines.
“Students will develop skills to manage projects to successful completion through planning, organising and monitoring timelines, activities and the use of resources,” the Curriculum states.
“This includes considering resources and constraints to develop resource, finance, work and time plans; assessing and managing risks; making decisions; controlling quality; evaluating processes and collaborating and communicating with others at different stages of the process.”
On occasions when the learning
“COMMON SENSE ISN’T NECESSARILY AN INNATE HUMAN SKILL; IT’S LARGELY BUILT UP THROUGH OUR EXPERIENCES AND OBSERVATIONS OVER TIME IN INCREMENTAL WAYS, SO WORKSHOP EXPERIENCE IS A GREAT WAY TO BUILD UP COMMON SENSE IN THE KIDS.”
experience involves the use of potentially hazardous substances or equipment, the Curriculum said the onus was on the school.
“It is the responsibility of the school to ensure that duty of care is exercised in relation to the health and safety of all students and that school practices meet the requirements of the Work Health and Safety Act 2011, in addition to relevant state or territory health and safety guidelines,” it states.
Duty of care included ensuring tools and equipment met Australian standards and were regularly audited and maintained; labels and safety messages were visible and clear to students; personal protective equipment (PPE) was available and worn correctly; and appropriate instruction and supervision was given.
While safety measures such as this have been enforced in school workshops since day one, injuries can be encountered when children or teachers fail to follow said policies and procedures.
Safework SA Workplace Advisory Services manager Glenn Farrell said equipment found in school workshops posed a significant risk to people if not managed appropriately.
“Each item of plant may be unique in its design, but common risks may include electrical, chemical, mechanical and radiation exposure,” Mr Farrell said.
“It’s important that those involved in the risk assessment of plant and equipment are competent to do this and utilise information from manufacturers, industry, codes of practice or relevant Australian standards.”
Safety Institute of Australia (SIA) deputy chairman Nathan Winter said while data specifically related to injuries to school children in technical studies classes was not publically available, old ABS data to 2003 showed that the number of child fatalities due to an injury had a steady downward trend between 1983 and 2003.
“There is also data that shows the majority of injuries to children in 2001 were due to falls or collisions during leisure or sports activities, as opposed to from injuries sustained in technical studies classes,” Mr Winter said.
Significant injuries were rare, but isolated incidents still occurred, Maurice Blackburn principal Public Liability lawyer Dimi Ioannou said.
The Victoria-based lawyer said the firm received “a few enquiries” in relation to children who suffer injuries in schools, and was currently working on a case.
“In this particular case our student was attending a woodwork class, and the day that the teacher was providing instructions he was away sick on the day and they never followed up to provide him with the proper protocols,” Ms Ioannou said.
“He wasn’t given adequate instructions on how to use the belt sander and as a result of that he sliced his right index finger.”
Slater Gordon National Practice Group Leader in Public Liability Barrie Woollacott had also encountered cases of this nature.
“Not surprisingly they’re all hand related injuries,” Mr Woollacott said.
“One of them was a saw bench in a woodworking class; the saw bench had been modified in some way on a previous occasion and the trouble with the modification is that it meant the safety guard failed to operate as it was supposed to operate.
“It was a case of complacency around the need to make sure if a modification to the equipment was made that it needs to be still compliant with the relevant safety standards.”
Mr Woollacott said he had also witnessed a band saw accident that was a result of inadequate control and supervision exercised by the classroom instructor.
“The machine had been demonstrated in terms of its use and on this occasion the student was trying to do too many pieces of timber in the one cut,” he said.
“The result being that the thing sort of jammed up with him and he ended up with hand injuries when the timber was removed from the blade.
“The band saw case is an example of ‘Ok I’ve shown the kid how to use the band saw, now I’m off showing someone else’ as opposed to ‘well hang on, are you also monitoring that the demonstration that you gave is being followed?”’
He said teachers should be aware that children may not be paying attention when instructions have been given, so it was important to follow up with each student to ensure the message was understood.
“I remember this case pretty well because the teacher was pretty incredulous and pretty dismissive on the basis that they had obviously shown the student how to use the thing so he obviously wasn’t paying attention,” he said.
“That might be right but the fact is, if you’re trying to give a demonstration to three or four kids around the band saw there’s a good chance that one of them might be distracted and may not be getting it all.”
Safety in school workshops is an issue that State government departments and Independent school bodies take seriously.
The WA Department of Education said almost all of its Design & Technology staff recently completed an intensive, face-to-face occupational safety and health training course tailored to their roles.
“School staff work in line with the Department’s Occupational Safety and Health policy at all times, including during design and technology and woodwork classes,” a department spokesperson said.
“Regular training is provided to staff that use machinery or instruct students in these classes.
“School staff receive professional development whenever new equipment is installed.”
The NSW Department of Education said schools in the State could take advantage of safety related webinars and workshops, and the ‘equipment safety in school’ database that provided risk assessment and guidance advice on the range of fixed equipment and portable power tools used in school workshops.
“The advice also addresses, but is not limited to, prohibiting specific items, limiting access to specific machines and the level of supervision required,” a NSW Department of Education spokesperson said.
“The advice is endorsed by an independent external safety consultant.
“The department’s facilities maintenance contractor ensures that the essential safety related infrastructure, such as dust and fume extraction and ventilation, is fully operational.
“Fixed plant and machines are inspected and maintained on an annual basis; those which are deemed to be beyond economic repair are replaced at no cost to the school.”
Similarly, the Queensland Department of Education published the Curriculum Activity Risk Assessment (CARA) activity guidelines, while South Australia had its own Plant Risk Management program.
SIA deputy chairman Nathan Winter said the South Australian Department of Education and Child Development had engaged certified members of SIA to perform audits of plant/machinery throughout South Australian schools.
“These audits include assessment of the plant against the latest relevant Australian Standards,” Mr Winter said.
“The latest version of AS4024 - Safety of Machine was updated in 2014; this standard is hundreds of pages long and is only one of the Australian Standards that needs to be considered when performing an assessment of machinery compliance with the latest standards.
“It is obviously not reasonably practicable for every technical studies teacher to read all applicable standards and assess whether the machinery within their classes is fully compliant.
“Hence it makes sense to engage a specialist Certified Professional member of SIA that is already familiar with the relevant standards to make such an assessment.”
Mr Winter said recommendations from such an assessment may include extra guarding placed on some machinery, or that certain machines be replaced altogether.
“Technology is advancing rapidly and there are much more sophisticated forms of interlocked and light curtain guarding devices available at more affordable prices than there has been in the past,” he said.
Independent schools across the country were also accountable to governing regulations.
“With regard to the Independent Sector on these matters, all Independent Schools in Western Australia go through a rigorous re-registration process through the Department of Education Services,” Association of Independent Schools of WA deputy director Ron Gorman said.
“There are a number of standards that all schools must meet; there is a specific standard, ‘Levels of Care’ that requires that schools provide safe and healthy environments for students at all time.
“All schools therefore have clear policies and procedures for the safety and wellbeing of all students.” It doesn’t matter what a workshop looks like – the approach to safety should be the same, Safework SA Workplace Advisory Services manager Glenn Farrell said.
“Identify all hazards and do what is reasonable to eliminate them,” Mr Farrell said.
“Generally speaking, workplace incidents involving plant and equipment are nearly always attributable to one or a combination of the following, all of which are preventable: lack of training; lack of supervision; poorly maintained plant and equipment; lack of, or inadequate, guarding; plant and equipment being used inappropriately; and horseplay.
“Where hazards cannot be removed, controls must be put in place to minimise the risk of a student, or any other person, being exposed to injury or harm.”
Mr Farrell said teachers needed to ensure students were appropriately trained in the safe use of plant and equipment, including what to do if something went wrong.
“Effective training will ensure students know about issues that will or could affect their health and safety and make it a safe environment in which to speak up,” he said.
“This will put them in good stead when they leave school and enter the workforce.”
Mr Farrell said maintaining a safe environment also required regular monitoring of the space via workplace inspections, plant and equipment maintenance as per the manufacturer’s instructions, and having a hazard, near-miss and injury reporting process.
“Plant and equipment manufacturers will recommend maintenance schedules, which may require parts to be replaced or serviced,” he said.
“Checking that guards are in place and that safety mechanisms function properly should be performed prior to being used each time.
“Schools should continually review the plant and equipment in use to identify if it complies with current legislation and that any hazards associated with it is eliminated or minimised, so far as is reasonable and practicable.
“Older machinery doesn’t necessarily mean it’s not as safe as newer designs, but when considering purchasing new plant and equipment, the safety features provided by different models should be considered as part of the purchasing decision.”
Slater and Gordon’s Barrie Woollacott said in an age where DIY hardware was readily available to the general public, safety measures taught in schools were “really important” to give children exposure.
“Common sense isn’t necessarily an innate human skill, it’s largely built up through our experiences and observations over time in incremental ways, so workshop experience is a great way to build up common sense in the kids as common sense these days is becoming pretty uncommon,” Mr Woollacott said.
“I think there needs to be a graduated introduction to the more dangerous equipment so kids aren’t exposed from dangerous equipment from the get go.
“Teachers ought not to be afraid to encourage and permit incremental exposure to dangerous equipment.”
“PLANT AND EQUIPMENT MANUFACTURERS WILL RECOMMEND MAINTENANCE SCHEDULES, WHICH MAY REQUIRE PARTS TO BE REPLACED OR SERVICED.” SAFETY STRATEGIES
The responsibility of safety in school workshops lies with the school.
Schools should continue to review equipment to ensure it meets Australian safety standards .