Australia: A recent $10 million undertaking puts the spotlight back on violence in schools

Last Updated: 1 December 2018
Article by Annie Smeaton

In a timely reminder of the impact of student violence in the education sector and its very real cost to staff and educational institutions, the ACT Education Directorate has recently entered into a record undertaking with Worksafe ACT in relation to injuries suffered by staff.

Following a series of investigations by WorkSafe, it was alleged that the Education Directorate had failed to comply with its duties under the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 (ACT). Specifically, WorkSafe alleged that the Education Directorate had not done all that was reasonably practicable to ensure the health and safety of staff because it had:

  • applied inconsistent or inadequate controls to workplace hazards associated with student behaviour
  • failed to adequately adjust controls following incidents or changes in circumstances
  • failed to provide adequate training to staff in the application of identified controls.


The investigation focused primarily on incidents of student violence at three schools and the resulting injuries to employees. These injuries included soft tissue and skin injuries (such as bruising, contusions, cuts, scratches) and psychological injuries.

At the first school, a staff member working in the kindergarten suffered multiple injuries from students identified as having disabilities, complex needs and challenging behaviours. The staff member reported injuries on multiple occasions and the Education Directorate offered some support. The injuries ultimately resulted in an accepted compensation claim for a psychological injury.

At the second school, a kindergarten teacher was hospitalised after they were kicked by a student who had been involved in multiple violent incidents throughout the year. Shortly after, a number of other staff were involved in incidents with a kindergarten aged student with complex needs and behaviours. They were bitten, scratched, punched and kicked. One of the staff members was pregnant at the time and was struck on her abdomen.

At the third school, the incidents involved a high school student who was identified as having challenging behaviours that presented an extreme risk staff and to others. The student attended school part-time as a part of their risk management plan. This student threw a computer monitor at a teacher, narrowly missing them, as well as abusing, threatening and assaulting the teacher. Teachers at this school were not provided with adequate training on how to reduce or avoid incidents of violence.

For each of these schools, the risk assessments that were undertaken and the individual learning plans and behaviour management plans were not effective. In addition, it was considered that the training offered to staff was inadequate. The staff members at each school continued to suffer harm despite the schools attempting to take steps to rectify the identified risks.


A working group was formed among stakeholders (including school staff, Education Directorate staff and the union) and new policies dealing with occupational violence were developed.

The Education Directorate also signed an undertaking that included the committing:

  • approximately $7.67 million to developing the Occupational Violence Safety Management System program, a significant proportion related to the development of sensory spaces in schools for staff to support students with complex needs, and professional learning to support schools in creating sensory spaces
  • a further $2.225 million to training and communications initiatives
  • another $100,000 to strategies to deliver community benefits by working with parent associations to raise awareness about occupational violence in the education sector.

Interestingly, while the Work Health and Safety (WHS Undertakings) Guidelines 2018 (No 1) (ACT) provide that the cost of activities associated with enforceable undertakings 'may be substantially higher than the value of the fine a court may impose for the matter', the estimated costs of this undertaking are substantially higher than any undertaking previously recorded.


The undertakings serve as a reminder to educational institutions that risks to the health and safety of workers in the workplace need to be adequately identified, assessed and controlled. There can be significant and costly consequences for failing to comply with these duties.

It is not sufficient for educational institutions to simply to devise behaviour management plans and other controls to address risks. Schools and other educational institutions with obligations under workplace health and safety legislation must also ensure adequate communication, training and supervision to implement any plans, and ensure those plans are adjusted as required, particularly where there is any incident or change in circumstances.

Incidents involving student violence often go hand in hand with potential discrimination. In circumstances where there is conflict with other parties about how to best implement behavioural management plans and other controls for individual students, educational institutions should seek legal advice. If you would like to discuss your educational institution's obligations under workplace health and safety legislation or any other aspect of behaviour management plans with our team, please contact partner Annie Smeaton or lawyer Samantha Ramsay.

© Cooper Grace Ward Lawyers

Cooper Grace Ward is a leading Australian law firm based in Brisbane.

This publication is for information only and is not legal advice. You should obtain advice that is specific to your circumstances and not rely on this publication as legal advice. If there are any issues you would like us to advise you on arising from this publication, please contact Cooper Grace Ward Lawyers.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

Some comments from our readers…
“The articles are extremely timely and highly applicable”
“I often find critical information not available elsewhere”
“As in-house counsel, Mondaq’s service is of great value”

Related Topics
Related Articles
Up-coming Events Search
Font Size:
Mondaq on Twitter
Mondaq Free Registration
Gain access to Mondaq global archive of over 375,000 articles covering 200 countries with a personalised News Alert and automatic login on this device.
Mondaq News Alert (some suggested topics and region)
Select Topics
Registration (please scroll down to set your data preferences)

Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including your content preferences, for three primary purposes (full details of Mondaq’s use of your personal data can be found in our Privacy and Cookies Notice):

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting to show content ("Content") relevant to your interests.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, news alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our content providers ("Contributors") who contribute Content for free for your use.

Mondaq hopes that our registered users will support us in maintaining our free to view business model by consenting to our use of your personal data as described below.

Mondaq has a "free to view" business model. Our services are paid for by Contributors in exchange for Mondaq providing them with access to information about who accesses their content. Once personal data is transferred to our Contributors they become a data controller of this personal data. They use it to measure the response that their articles are receiving, as a form of market research. They may also use it to provide Mondaq users with information about their products and services.

Details of each Contributor to which your personal data will be transferred is clearly stated within the Content that you access. For full details of how this Contributor will use your personal data, you should review the Contributor’s own Privacy Notice.

Please indicate your preference below:

Yes, I am happy to support Mondaq in maintaining its free to view business model by agreeing to allow Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors whose Content I access
No, I do not want Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors

Also please let us know whether you are happy to receive communications promoting products and services offered by Mondaq:

Yes, I am happy to received promotional communications from Mondaq
No, please do not send me promotional communications from Mondaq
Terms & Conditions (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd (Mondaq). Mondaq grants you a non-exclusive, revocable licence to access the Website and associated services, such as the Mondaq News Alerts (Services), subject to and in consideration of your compliance with the following terms and conditions of use (Terms). Your use of the Website and/or Services constitutes your agreement to the Terms. Mondaq may terminate your use of the Website and Services if you are in breach of these Terms or if Mondaq decides to terminate the licence granted hereunder for any reason whatsoever.

Use of

To Use you must be: eighteen (18) years old or over; legally capable of entering into binding contracts; and not in any way prohibited by the applicable law to enter into these Terms in the jurisdiction which you are currently located.

You may use the Website as an unregistered user, however, you are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the Content or to receive the Services.

You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these Terms or with the prior written consent of Mondaq. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information from the Content. Nor shall you extract information about users or Contributors in order to offer them any services or products.

In your use of the Website and/or Services you shall: comply with all applicable laws, regulations, directives and legislations which apply to your Use of the Website and/or Services in whatever country you are physically located including without limitation any and all consumer law, export control laws and regulations; provide to us true, correct and accurate information and promptly inform us in the event that any information that you have provided to us changes or becomes inaccurate; notify Mondaq immediately of any circumstances where you have reason to believe that any Intellectual Property Rights or any other rights of any third party may have been infringed; co-operate with reasonable security or other checks or requests for information made by Mondaq from time to time; and at all times be fully liable for the breach of any of these Terms by a third party using your login details to access the Website and/or Services

however, you shall not: do anything likely to impair, interfere with or damage or cause harm or distress to any persons, or the network; do anything that will infringe any Intellectual Property Rights or other rights of Mondaq or any third party; or use the Website, Services and/or Content otherwise than in accordance with these Terms; use any trade marks or service marks of Mondaq or the Contributors, or do anything which may be seen to take unfair advantage of the reputation and goodwill of Mondaq or the Contributors, or the Website, Services and/or Content.

Mondaq reserves the right, in its sole discretion, to take any action that it deems necessary and appropriate in the event it considers that there is a breach or threatened breach of the Terms.

Mondaq’s Rights and Obligations

Unless otherwise expressly set out to the contrary, nothing in these Terms shall serve to transfer from Mondaq to you, any Intellectual Property Rights owned by and/or licensed to Mondaq and all rights, title and interest in and to such Intellectual Property Rights will remain exclusively with Mondaq and/or its licensors.

Mondaq shall use its reasonable endeavours to make the Website and Services available to you at all times, but we cannot guarantee an uninterrupted and fault free service.

Mondaq reserves the right to make changes to the services and/or the Website or part thereof, from time to time, and we may add, remove, modify and/or vary any elements of features and functionalities of the Website or the services.

Mondaq also reserves the right from time to time to monitor your Use of the Website and/or services.


The Content is general information only. It is not intended to constitute legal advice or seek to be the complete and comprehensive statement of the law, nor is it intended to address your specific requirements or provide advice on which reliance should be placed. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the Content for any purpose. All Content provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers hereby exclude and disclaim all representations, warranties or guarantees with regard to the Content, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. To the maximum extent permitted by law, Mondaq expressly excludes all representations, warranties, obligations, and liabilities arising out of or in connection with all Content. In no event shall Mondaq and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use of the Content or performance of Mondaq’s Services.


Mondaq may alter or amend these Terms by amending them on the Website. By continuing to Use the Services and/or the Website after such amendment, you will be deemed to have accepted any amendment to these Terms.

These Terms shall be governed by and construed in accordance with the laws of England and Wales and you irrevocably submit to the exclusive jurisdiction of the courts of England and Wales to settle any dispute which may arise out of or in connection with these Terms. If you live outside the United Kingdom, English law shall apply only to the extent that English law shall not deprive you of any legal protection accorded in accordance with the law of the place where you are habitually resident ("Local Law"). In the event English law deprives you of any legal protection which is accorded to you under Local Law, then these terms shall be governed by Local Law and any dispute or claim arising out of or in connection with these Terms shall be subject to the non-exclusive jurisdiction of the courts where you are habitually resident.

You may print and keep a copy of these Terms, which form the entire agreement between you and Mondaq and supersede any other communications or advertising in respect of the Service and/or the Website.

No delay in exercising or non-exercise by you and/or Mondaq of any of its rights under or in connection with these Terms shall operate as a waiver or release of each of your or Mondaq’s right. Rather, any such waiver or release must be specifically granted in writing signed by the party granting it.

If any part of these Terms is held unenforceable, that part shall be enforced to the maximum extent permissible so as to give effect to the intent of the parties, and the Terms shall continue in full force and effect.

Mondaq shall not incur any liability to you on account of any loss or damage resulting from any delay or failure to perform all or any part of these Terms if such delay or failure is caused, in whole or in part, by events, occurrences, or causes beyond the control of Mondaq. Such events, occurrences or causes will include, without limitation, acts of God, strikes, lockouts, server and network failure, riots, acts of war, earthquakes, fire and explosions.

By clicking Register you state you have read and agree to our Terms and Conditions