Duty of Care for Teachers

17 Nov

As teachers and schools are being held more accountable for the quality of education, they are also being held more accountable for providing a safe environment for students. In Australia, the Occupational Health and Safety Act states the role of the department of Education to provide an environment that is free from risks and hazards.

The moment that students enter the school gates on to school grounds, the school and the department of education has a duty of care to ensure that students will not be injured.

For teachers this means that we have a duty to

* Take reasonable care of the health and safety of themselves and others at the workplace

* cooperate with the employer to comply with OH@S legislation

* report any unsafe conditions which come to their attention

Because teachers work with and around students, OH@S has established a ‘duty of care’ in which teachers are required to take reasonable measures to protect students against risks of injury. For example, if your the teacher on playground duty you have a duty of care for the supervision of those students. If your in a classroom with your students, you have a duty of care to provide a safe environment and take reasonable steps to prevent injury.

As teachers we need to consider safety and what could possibly go wrong or ther risks. To help us make a risk assessment we would need to consider

* The number of students in your care

* The age of the students

* The activity taking place

* The environment where the activity will be taking place

Of course if teachers are working with special needs students, there will be alot more to consider. Teachers may require further assistance from other teachers or special needs staff.

The ‘Duty of Care’ also establishes that teachers must take steps to protect students against injury in circumstances which could be ‘reasonably foreseen’. Now this is where it gets tricky. For teachers we have to think of circumstances where it is possible for a student to be injured. One classic example is when students leave their bags outside the classroom and the handles of the bag are hanging loose from the bag which could be a trip hazard for any student walking or running.

Now as we know accidents do happen. Duty of care is not to ensure that their is no injury but that teachers and the school have taken reasonable steps to prevent injury.

Here is another scenario. You have just started school at 8.10am and you see a student climbing up in a tree. Now you know that they could get hurt. What do you do? A duty of care is established on your part when you see the students in potential harm. So you need to act either by supervising the students yourself or calling for another teacher on playground supervision to watch the students.

Under the Duty of Care, teachers personally cannot be sued or held liable in a court but it is the school or the department of education that takes responsibility under ‘vicarious liability’ in which the school accepts liability on behalf of teachers. However a teacher can be held personally responsible if they are found to have acted negligently if

  • an action which could reasonably have been expected to contribute, directly or indirectly, to causing harm to a pupil;
  • a failure to take action to prevent reasonably foreseeable harm to a pupil.

So what does this mean for teachers in their daily duties? It means that teachers or staff must be on duty half an hour before school starts and thirty minutes after school ends while students are stilll on school grounds.

It means being aware of the school supervision plan which is usually compiled with the consultation with teachers and parents. The plan should be based on a comprehensive assessment of risk, taking into account factors relevant to the school such as: the age, number and nature of students; the finishing time of classes; the layout and terrain of the school grounds, including split sites; proximity of play areas to busy roads; fixed playground equipment; climatic conditions; the activity being undertaken; emergency situations; potential hazards; transport arrangements; as well as the duties and workload of individual teachers.

Teachers have a responsibility to report any incidents and hazards to the principal. When going on excursions or outside the school grounds, teachers should check with principals if they need a risk assessment register for potential hazards to be aware of.




Further information

NSW Department of Education Professional responsibilities of teachers

NSW Teachers Federation http://www.nswtf.org.au/pages/legal-stuff.html


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