Hazard assessments, a requirement of Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) legislation, play a key role in health and safety at the workplace. Hazard assessments must be completed before any work takes place at the school, and should be reviewed at regular intervals, or when something changes the way that the work is done. Typically, hazard assessments are done at the start of every school year. Under the OHS Act, school divisions have the obligation to include teachers (workers) and other workers in the building in conducting hazard assessments. Hazard assessments are specific to the work being done, and therefore some teaching assignments may have additional controls in place due to additional hazards associated with that particular assignment. School divisions (employers), via the principals (supervisors), must communicate known hazards and the controls in place so that everyone working in the school know how to work safely.
OHS is always part of a teacher’s working conditions. While COVID‑19 amplified this, respiratory illness has always been included as a potential hazard identifiable in the OHS hazard assessment for work sites. It should continue to be a focus for controls in the upcoming school year. All workplace hazards, including those associated with COVID-19, should be on the hazard assessment, as well as the measures in place to eliminate or control those hazards. This information needs to be available to all workers in the building. School divisions must eliminate the hazards where possible. If it is not possible to eliminate a hazard, the hazard must be controlled to the lowest level of risk possible by following a hierarchy:
· First choice: Engineering controls to modify the worksite to isolate people from a hazard.
· Second choice: Administrative controls to change how and when the work is done to control a hazard.
· Third choice: Personal Protective Equipment provided to workers to wear to protect them while working.
While the controls are considered in a hierarchy, they are also frequently identified as a part of a suite of controls. This means it is the combination of controls that is required to ensure the hazards are controlled as effectively as possible. Employers can choose to strengthen controls beyond the minimum recommendations of the chief medical officer of health in order to ensure the health and safety of everyone in the schools.
Vaccinations can be part of the recommended controls included in the hazard assessment as a measure taken to reduce the hazards associated with COVID-19. As a teacher, you have responsibilities in ensuring the health and safety of everyone at your school. This includes providing feedback on the controls in place or suggesting additional controls, reporting unhealthy or unsafe conditions in a timely matter, and following the health and safety plan of your school.
If you have individual concerns that are not part of the OHS hazard assessment but have implications for your health and safety while at work, speak with your doctor. If your doctor identifies limitations and restrictions, you will be required to provide medical documentation from your doctor to your employer to ensure that accommodations are put in place. Call Teacher Employment Services for more information (1-800-232-7208).
The following links provide more information about the role of hazard assessments:
Hazard Assessment and Control: A Handbook for Alberta Employers and Workers
COVID-19 as a workplace hazard
Hazard assessments are a critical piece in ensuring the health and safety of everyone at the school. They need to be completed before the school year begins and then at regular intervals and when something changes in how the work in the school is done. #WEAREATA
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