Health and safety for new teachers
Fitness to teach
Successful candidates for teaching positions are required to complete a medical questionnaire to determine their medical fitness to teach. Based on the questionnaire, you may be required to attend a comprehensive medical examination – this is the case for only a small percentage of teachers.
The questionnaires and examinations are administered by Medmark, which is the Occupational Health Service provider for teachers.
If you are ill and cannot attend for work, you should notify the school as early as possible and indicate the likely duration of your absence.
The maximum number of self-certified (uncertified) sick leave days allowable in a rolling two-year period is 7. A medical certificate of illness is required if you are absent for more than 4 consecutive school days. A total of 365 days over a 4-year period is the limit for certified sick leave. For fixed-term teachers, the maximum is limited to 91 days annually and granted on a pro-rata basis. New sick leave arrangements are due to be implemented from 2014. For more comprehensive information on sick leave and other leave, click here.
Stress or anxiety is the most common cause of occupational illness for teachers. Teaching has a number of specific stressors such as dealing with disruptive student behaviour, the pressure of school inspections, providing cover for colleagues, and large workload.
Some tips to help you manage stress:
• It is important that teachers have support from each other and from management – so speak up about any stress you are experiencing.
• If specific aspects of your job are causing you stress, you can talk to your principal, a colleague or your ASTI school steward or representative
• Plan ahead and set targets. Use your ASTI diary and wall planner to make note of important dates and deadlines to work towards.
• Recognise your stress and the reasons behind it. Take action to deal with it – one thing at a time.
• Try not to become overwhelmed; remember to step back and take a fresh look at your situation.
• If you can, separate work and home. Take time out for yourself, do something you find relaxing – read a book, take a walk, and try to clear your head.
• Sleep well and see your doctor if you are finding it difficult to sleep.
• Remember you are not alone; the ASTI is here to support you with any work-related issue you experience.
•The Employee Assistance Service (EAS) for teachers is available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. You can call 1800-411 057 for free confidential counselling.
Teaching relies heavily on vocal communication, which puts pressure on your voice and your vocal health. Your voice is a vital tool of your trade, so make sure you protect it:
• Dry or cold air can contribute to throat or vocal irritation, so take care to make sure your classroom is warm and humid.
• Drink plenty of water if speaking for long periods
• When managing your class, consider practical aspects that may conserve your voice such as location, grouping, concise phrasing and visual communications
• Where possible, avoid speaking over noise, reduce unnecessary noise and bring students closer to you rather than trying to make your voice stretch.
• Watch your breathing and make sure it is rhythmic and relaxed.
• Pause during speech to allow time to rest and breath
• If you are consistently hoarse or having sore throats, consult your GP and, if necessary, arrange a consultation with a specialist
• Silence is golden – take a period of silence after class or in the evenings. Vocal rest is vital for prevention and recovery.
The HSE’s speech and language therapists on the Tralee Primary Care Teams have developed a short video to provide guidelines on voice care for teachers. This video can be viewed here. It is also available as a free, downloadable podcast.
It is the overall responsibility of management to ensure the Health, Safety and Welfare at Work Act is adhered to and that a health and safety management system is put in place in your school.
Every school is legally required to have a safety statement and it is very important that the statement is given to each new teacher who joins the staff. Ask your principal or safety officer about the statement.
A safety officer is appointed by management to monitor the health and safety standards in the school. A safety representative is elected by staff to monitor safety standards and to investigate complaints by employees. All staff should be vigilant to health and safety breaches and risks and should bring them to the immediate attention of management or your safety rep.