Health and Safety Representatives have the backing of strong health and safety policies and procedures to enforce workplace safety.
Mental health nurse Danica Ivankovic knows from first-hand experience why nurses need to be able to speak up about workplace safety.
In 2019, Danica was assaulted and injured by a patient at Bungarribee House acute mental health unit.
A 20-year veteran of Bungarribee, she had long been concerned about deteriorating safety conditions.
“Our safety was going downhill but staff were scared to report issues. I knew we needed to speak up more,” she said.
After time off work, Danica became a workplace health and safety representative (HSR) for Blacktown Mental Health Service, which covers three units including Bungarribee.
Soon after she took on the role in 2020, four nurses were injured when a Bungarribee patient became violent and the duress alarm failed during an afternoon shift.
One nurse suffered broken ribs, however the injured were initially denied permission to attend the emergency department because the unit would have been left short-staffed.
When Danica came on night shift she debriefed and advised injured staff as they wrote IIMS (Incident Information Management System) reports.
An investigation by SafeWork NSW recommended that staff in future be allowed to immediately go off duty to get treatment.
Other recommendations included a review of staff numbers.
It is Danica’s role to help monitor implementation of the recommendations. She and a fellow HSR cover health and safety at all three units within the service. They are backed by HSRs specific to each unit.
“We are supposed to be talking to management about staffing but they are used to coming and telling us what they are going to,” she said.
Danica is able to attend to safety issues as they arise. She is paid if she has to attend to WHS matters on her days off.
“I encourage staff to report safety incidents because it’s everyone’s right and responsibility to be safe.
“Some staff won’t file incident reports because they don’t want to be seen as a trouble maker or they believe that it doesn’t go anywhere and is either changed or deleted. As a HSR I’m happy to speak up if others feel they might be bullied or harassed.”
Danica is also Blacktown City Mental Health Branch President of the NSWNMA. She says she gets strong support from the NSWNMA which offers training to HSRs.
She has learned that NSW Health policies and procedures on work health and safety are actually very strong.
“All nurses have a right to be safe at work whether it be in mental health, emergency, in-patient units or out in the community and the role of HSR teaches you your legal rights and responsibilities.
“We are entitled to tell management when they are going against their own policies and the law. The job of HSR has given me more confidence to raise these issues.”
HSRs have legal rights and powers
Health and safety representatives (HSRs) are nurses, midwives and assistants in nursing who create change to improve the health and safety of their workplaces.
HSRs have five key powers under the Work Health and Safety Act:
- inspect any part of the workplace after giving reasonable notice, or immediately in the event of an incident
- accompany a SafeWork NSW inspector during an inspection at your workplace
- require a health and safety committee to be established and be a member of the committee
- seek the assistance of any appropriate person on health and safety matters whenever necessary
- issue PINs (Provisional Improvement Notices) and directions to cease work.
Five rights of HSRs under the WHS Act 2011
HSRs have the right to:
- be consulted about WHS matters in your workplace and be provided with hazard-related information by your employer
- request a review of control measures under regulations (such as manual handling, noise, prevention of falls and confined spaces)
- take time off work with pay to attend training and to exercise HSR powers
- be provided with necessary facilities and assistance in your role as HSR
- ability to escalate an WHS matter that remains unresolved after consult-ation requirements have been followed.