Having missed the original December deadline, SafeWork NSW has given the University of New England a six month extension to comply with directions to make UNE a safer place to work.
In September 2022, UNE was issued with an Improvement Notice from NSW workplace health and safety regulator, with three Directions to address psychological safety in the workplace. Psychological safety is the belief that one will not be punished or humiliated for speaking up with ideas, questions, concerns, or mistakes, and it is one of the most important conditions necessary for a high performing workplace. In a statement the University said responding to SafeWork is linked to the broader UNE Safety Culture and Wellbeing review and the Safe Communities program, encompassing all staff and students.
“UNE’s Interim Vice Chancellor Professor Simon Evans said a lot has been achieved in understanding and addressing psychosocial hazards.”
“SafeWork NSW have recognised the extent of the progress to date and have granted UNE until June 2023 to finalise our response.”
“This will give greater opportunity for the Safety, Culture and Wellbeing Review and the broader UNE program of work in Safe Communities to be included in the response.”
“The Safety Culture and Wellbeing Review is on schedule and implementation of the review will occur by 1 June 2023.”
SafeWork NSW issued an improvement notice to UNE last year after and investigation that encompassed allegations of unsafe working conditions dating back to July 2020, and included the circumstances of a staff member’s suicide in March last year. They identified potential breaches of the Work Health and Safety Act, including that workers were being asked to meet unrealistic deadlines and perform jobs that exceeded their training or capabilities.
The three directives were that they review work practices, ensure a safe system of work for reporting, evaluating and investigating identified risks, and that the safe system of work should include the early identification of psychological risk factors, the assessment of control measures for their effective management and a timely investigation process.
A spokesperson for SafeWork NSW said they are “continuing to investigate the matter for which an improvement notice was issued to the University of New England.”
UNE is not the only major employer in Armidale dealing with a lack of psychological safety. Similar culture reviews intended to improve psychological safety and other issues with the way staff interact with each other have also been undertaken at the APVMA and Armidale Regional Council. An inquiry last year also found staff in regional hospitals were operating in a “culture of fear”.