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New HACSU Reports: Safety and Discipline in Disability


HACSU is proud to be launching two new incredibly important reports on safety and discipline in the disability sector.

Safety in Disability

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The safety of the disability sector has always been one of HACSU’s highest priorities as a union – we want to see the highest safety standards for persons with disabilities, safe homes, safe worksites, and a safe and supported workforce.

The onset of COVID-19 in early 2020 presented some grave challenges to the safety of Victoria’s disability sector. We relied on our thousands of members to report critical safety concerns to us, which we in turn used to inform our advocacy and lobbying to government.

In the early weeks of the pandemic, HACSU called thousands of our members. Their concerns- including around access to PPE, infection control processes- were immediately and directly relayed to government; often on a daily basis.

We are confident that our members’ reports and feedback played a critical role in keeping COVID infections at a lower level than in other vulnerable settings (including, most devastatingly, aged care settings).

Throughout 2021, we’ve continued to survey our members on a range of critical safety issues. Between May 20th -June 14th, 1279 HACSU disability members completed our second major safety audit. In April, June and August of 2021, over 1000 HACSU members responded to specific surveys in relation to COVID-19 vaccinations. This report is the culmination of those findings.

Discipline and the Effect on Mental Health in the Disability Sector

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The disability sector has undergone a number of Commissions and reforms in recent years resulting in a strengthening of the quality and safeguards for people with disabilities that is supported and valued by stakeholders in the industry. It is these frameworks that have focused on reporting of abuse and neglect through regulatory bodies that may have inadvertently created a higher level of reporting to the Commission and Police, a practice which increases the risks of mental health injuries to staff undergoing these investigations.

The primary purpose of disciplinary action and performance management procedures is to address concerns about employee behaviour, performance, or conduct. The aim is not to punish employees, but rather to correct performance or behaviour to meet an appropriate work standard.

Removal from the workforce whilst undergoing investigations is often standard practice, yet has significant short-term and long-term impacts on the health and well-being of employees whose work is an integral part of their identity.

In recent years HACSU has experienced a high increase in the number of discipline matters that resulted in staff being stood down and/or investigated through a formal discipline process of serious misconduct with serious and significant impacts on those staff and their families. Those staff reported serious and significant impacts on their mental health and the wellbeing of their immediate families. Tragically, there have been 3 sentinel events of suicide involving HACSU members who were undergoing discipline processes in a period of 2 years. The number of staff reporting suicidal tendencies during this process has also been significant and increasing.

Furthermore, discipline processes also have an impact on teams and their consumers, who may struggle with the understanding of what is occurring, or where an employee has gone.

This paper provides the methodology and findings in more detail, with the summary of key process issues and identified best practice to reduce mental health injuries.