I rise to make a statement on Occupational Health and Safety Risk on Public Hospitals, a report undertaken by the Victorian Auditor-General in November 2013. The report examines how public hospitals in Victoria are effectively managing occupational health and safety. Hospitals are the single largest subsector in the public sector workforce, and as of 30 June there were 84 public hospitals in Victoria with 98 446 employees. In his opening comments the Auditor-General states:
- I found significant shortcomings in the daily management of OHS in public hospitals visited during this audit.
The key issues that arise from this report are inadequate reporting systems, inconsistent follow-up and investigation of occupational health and safety incidents, and superficial analysis of root causes. Further, improvement is not likely to occur without a renewed focus from senior hospital management. There needs to be clearer accountability by the managers of occupational health and safety performance. Whilst the board might have a comprehensive policy, there seems to be a breakdown of that policy when it comes to its implementation by hospital managers. The report also notes the need for closer collaboration between the Department of Health and WorkSafe. The Auditor-General notes that collaboration between these two organisations has started but that there is a need for them to work together more.
This is a particularly important report.
Not only do an enormous number of people work in those 84 hospitals, which are of course workplaces, but there is also a situation where, obviously, members of the public are attending those hospitals too. If we do not have a properly managed risk management regime in our hospitals, it will not only place the workforce at greater risk but also the general public. It is important to be reminded that the sorts of risks that occur in hospitals do not necessarily happen in other workplaces and other interfaces with the public — for example, there is a greater risk of being exposed to infectious and chemical agents in hospitals.
There are also issues for staff in manual handling of patients and materials, and there are slips, trips and falls as well as issues around occupational violence. It was clear through the investigation that the staff did not see occupational health and safety as very significant, and a lot of work needs to be done in accepting that occupational risks are just around the corner for everyone. It was also indicated that because staff are under enormous pressure they often do not report occupational health and safety incidents because it takes so much of their time.
The training of staff at all levels needs to be improved, and records need to be kept.
At the moment records are not kept so that management knows and can ensure that staff are up to date in terms of occupational health and safety. I support the Auditor-General’s calls for a future review to assess whether the level of protection for public hospital workers has been improved. The issues are simply too important not to be under control, and we need to be vigilant in ensuring safe public hospital environments for the workers as well as for the general public in Victoria.