Shepparton students call for better OHS standards in schools

Kellie Johansson and Joy Parnell are calling for better occupational health and safety standards in Victorian schools.

By Laura Placella

Two Greater Shepparton Secondary College students are calling for better occupational health and safety (OH&S) standards in Victorian schools in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Joy Parnell and Kellie Johansson, both 18, are participants in the 2020 YMCA Victoria Youth Parliament program, where young people aged 16 to 25 have a chance to develop a bill on an issue they are passionate about.

The students’ bill would see the establishment of a Victorian OH&S board, which would have the right to audit any school it believed was not meeting the standards.

The bill will require all school bathrooms to have soap in motion-sensor dispensers and all classrooms must have hand sanitiser dispensers at their entrances.

Ms Parnell said earlier this year when she studied on-site at the Wanganui campus, there were times there was no soap in the bathrooms she used.

“I personally have tried to avoid the toilets [at GSSC] but when you have to go, you have to go,” she said.

“I ended up resorting to bringing my own bar of soap to use.”

According to the Department of Education and Training, GSSC has permanent soap dispensers in all toilets and if they require repair or replacement, portable soap dispensers are provided.

Professional cleaning of campus toilets has also been significantly increased this year due to COVID-19.

In addition to the normal nightly cleaning regime of toilets and classrooms that takes place after every school day, each campus now has cleaning staff working full-time during school days.

The students’ bill will also require all classroom tables to be wiped down with sanitising wipes or spray after every class.

“To be completely realistic, there are some classrooms that are used at all points in the day,” Ms Johansson said.

“A kid comes through, they’re touching the table, another kid comes through, they touch it and they get sick. That’s how it is, especially in such a high-density environment.”

All of GSSC’s classrooms are provided with spray bottles containing hospital grade cleaning solution, and disposable towels to wipe down desks, chairs and tables.

However, the students’ bill is not limited to hygiene. It also calls for adjustable tables and posture correcting chairs to be available in all classrooms.

An Education Department spokesperson said schools regularly replaced or upgraded classroom furniture and equipment to support student learning.

There is an ongoing process of replacement with more than 120 new chairs recently purchased for the Wanganui campus alone.

“The Victorian Government is also providing more than $414,000 to maintain the existing facilities at [GSSC’s] McGuire, Wanganui and Mooroopna campuses to ensure students can learn in a safe and well-maintained environment,” the spokesperson said.

“We take the health and wellbeing of students very seriously, especially during this pandemic.

“All schools have undertaken a range of measures to reduce risk of transmission of COVID-19, including enhanced cleaning, practising hand hygiene, and wearing face coverings.”

The students developed the bill as the current Victorian OH&S laws only make specific requirements in regard to hazards, with duties of care limited to injury or harm to health that can occur.

Member for Shepparton Suzanna Sheed said Victoria Youth Parliament was a “fantastic opportunity . . . for our young people to be involved in policy discussions, to challenge ideas and converse in debate”.

Ms Sheed said the bill’s proposed changes would ensure access to hand hygiene products in all Victorian schools and “was inspired by student experiences with lack of access to soap and hand sanitiser dispensers during the current health pandemic”.

“This is an important preventative measure that could be introduced within our Victorian schools to support the steps forward into a COVID-normal world,” she said.

Ms Parnell said a bill like this would “basically make us feel happier at school” and would “reduce a lot of fears”, especially off the back of a pandemic.

The bill was handed to Youth Minister Ros Spence for consideration on September 29.

In the Victoria Youth Parliament’s 35-year history, more than 30 bills have become state legislation, including roadside drug testing for drivers and over-the-counter availability of the `morning after’ contraceptive pill.

This article was originally published in Shepparton News.

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