Key mental health safety information for the Education and Training industry

“Because teaching can be such a demanding and intensive job, it is important that educators learn how to work safely and practice self-care.”


A snapshot of the education and training industry

The education and training industry in Australia is a large employing industry involving 1,121,300 workers equating to 8.3% of the total workforce1. Education providers range from preschool, schools, technical colleges and training centres through to university level education. This sector also covers both public and privately owned institutions.

 Child care worker stock photo B

Teachers and educators play an important role in shaping their student’s minds and is the single most important influence on society and its future. Teachers who excel at their job do more than just teach the facts; but also encourage their students to consider why the facts matter. Great educators will encourage students to achieve their full potential by uplifting, nurturing, inspiring and empowering students in every lesson.

Great teachers empower students to achieve their full potential

Great teachers empower students to achieve their full potential

A crisis in the education and training industry

Teachers are often attracted to their vocation out of a desire to serve and to make a difference in others’ lives. However, having to constantly navigate and keep up with their student’s changing needs can mean that teachers have a lot to juggle each working day. Unfortunately, working under these demanding and intensive workloads has led to numerous teachers feeling overwhelmed, stressed and in danger of burning out.


A survey of 18,234 NSW public school teachers performed in 20182, before the pandemic, identified that:

  • There have been a significant growth in overall work hours with classroom teachers most commonly reporting upwards of 50 hours per week, which places teacher’s work in the category of “very long” working hours
  • These increased work demands are exerting severe and negative impacts on teachers. Teachers surveyed reported negative effects, including that their work always or often requires “too great an effort” (70%), prevents them from having uninterrupted breaks (73%), negatively impacts on their career aspirations (82%) and conflicts with family commitments and work-life balance (86%). 
  • The increased workload and demands are threatening teaching and student learning, with a very large majority of teachers reporting that student learning is hindered by their high workload (89%).


The past two years of the pandemic have also significantly affected workers in the education sector. In Victoria it was found that “more teachers have had WorkCover claims approved for conditions such as mental injury, related to the pandemic than people in any other profession in Victoria2.

In NSW the Teacher’s Federation noted that the pandemic period “has taken a significant toll on our profession, with no signs of abating. Our members continue to experience burden, both professionally and personally, underpinned by uncertainty, inconsistencies, frequently changing guidelines for school operations, ever changing community settings and health guidelines and inordinate amounts of additional pressure created by political and media commentary, parental aspirations and expectations, huge hours being worked – and all within a context of state-wide staffing shortages”3.

How education providers and employers can help and support their teaching staff


Mental ill-health is a serious condition that can negatively affect a person’s mood, thoughts and behaviour. There are many things that could contribute to mental ill-health at work, and these are called ‘Psychosocial Hazards’. If not managed properly, psychosocial hazards can start to add up and negatively impact on physical as well as mental health.

Mental (psychological) health, just like physical health, is an important part of Work, Health and Safety (WHS) in the workplace.

Under WHS legislation, educational employers have an obligation to eliminate all mental and physical hazards in their organisation so far as is reasonably practicable.


Educational employers need to install a WHS management system in their workplace that strive to identify, eliminate or isolate all hazards to their workers. A WHS management system will provide employers with a systematic and measurable process to address psychosocial hazards specific to their workplace, including:

  1. Identifying all psychosocial hazards specific to the educational institution
  2. Assessing the severity of each psychosocial hazards and how they affect staff
  3. Clear processes for how each psychosocial hazards identified will be controlled and managed
  4. A review and audit of the effectiveness of controls in eliminating, preventing and reducing all psychosocial hazards identified
All sources of psychosocial hazards should be identified and controlled

All sources of psychosocial hazards should be identified and managed

Identification of psychosocial hazards involves identifying aspects of work and situations that could potentially harm people and to find why these may be occurring. Educational employers should ensure their WHS management system has the right components to efficiently identify all psychosocial hazards. A WHS management system should include:

  • Guidelines and procedures for managers to follow when consulting their workers to identify psychosocial hazards specific to their work. Worker consultation can be done in forums, surveys, meetings or directly between workers and their supervisors.
  • Forms and questionnaires for workers to conduct a self-assessment of psychosocial hazards affecting them.
  • Checklists for workers to periodically follow to help manage their own wellbeing and promote good mental health. These checklists will help to identify the presence of psychosocial hazards unrealised by the worker.
Educational workplaces should install a WHS management system to manage mental health hazards

Educational workplaces should install a WHS management system to manage mental health hazards

Other practical ways a WHS management system can address mental hazards include:

  • A Mental Health Policy: The policy should send a clear message to all staff that senior leadership and management are committed to ensuring good mental health in the workplace, and that the wellbeing of their workers are valued.
  • Training: Teachers and support staff should be trained in identifying the risk factors for work-related psychological injury which are specific to their work. They should also be trained in the tools and skills for managing workplace stress and maintaining good mental health.
  • Reporting: Information about psychological hazards exiting in the workplace will need to be collected from across the organisation and reported to leadership and management. These reports should inform future decision making on workplace arrangements.
  • Support when workers experience mental injury including workers’ compensation procedures and Return-to-Work procedures.
Teacher’s mental health is linked to feeling supported in the classroom

Teacher’s mental health is linked to feeling supported in the classroom

It was found that teacher’s mental health is inextricably linked to feeling supported and effective in the classroom, which means giving teachers the dedicated time, space and resources they need5. To promote good mental health in their workplace, educational employers should also:

  • Provide quality and supportive leadership
  • Allow teacher input on policies, planning and workload
  • Free up teacher’s valuable teaching time from administrative tasks by providing support and extra resources such as teacher’s aides and administrative staff
  • Provide lesson plans and programs, or facilitate the sharing of lesson plans and programs between teachers
  • Allow for paid personal/mental health days
  • Recognise racial and socioeconomic disparities between teachers and provide support to those who need it
  • Providing free counselling and mindfulness training

The importance of peer mentorship

Supportive co-workers can be a teacher’s greatest asset in overcoming workplace stress. It is important that an education institution has a system in place to facilitate teacher peer mentorship and coaching programs. 

Supportive co-workers can be a teacher’s greatest asset

Supportive co-workers can be a teacher’s greatest asset

It is important that a checklist be incorporated into the WHS management system, which allow workers to identify psychosocial hazards and mental-ill health affecting their colleagues and fellow teachers. Management structures should be set to allow workers to confidentially report any concerns they may have on their colleague’s mental health and wellbeing.

Mental Health First Aiders within the education institution

Just like normal First Aiders in the workplace, educational employers should consider appointing key workers to be Mental Health First Aiders in the workplace.

The benefits of having trained Mental Health First Aiders in the workplace include:

  • Ensuring there are key workers who are trained in early intervention courses that teaches the practical skills needed to support someone experiencing a mental health problem
  • Raising awareness about mental health in the organisation
  • Ensuring someone is qualified to recognise signs of poor mental health among workers
  • Promoting healthy management and coping strategies for dealing with psychosocial hazards.
A trained Mental Health First Aider can recognise the mental health warning signs in their fellow teachers

A trained Mental Health First Aider can recognise the mental health warning signs in their fellow teachers

Why teachers and educators matter

Teachers and educators make a difference in our lives as they strive to educate and influence their students and the next generation. Teachers contribute to our children’s future every day, serving and doing their duty despite the mental, physical and emotional challenges they encounter. Therefore it is important that teachers in turn are protected by their employers and have a safe environment to work in.


“One child, one teacher, one book, one pen can change the world”

Malala Yousafzai



  1. Australian Government Labour Market Insight (2022), Education and Training Industry Details, Australian Government National Skills Commission,, accessed on 6th September 2022.
  1. Bucci, N., (2020), Victorian teachers lodge more WorkCover claims for impacts of coronavirus pandemic than any other profession, ABC News,, accessed on 2nd September 2022.
  1. NSW Teacher’s Federation (2022), Submission – Inquiry into the Workers Compensation Amendment Bill 2021, Australian Education Union,, accessed on 6th September 2022.
  1. McGrath-Champ, S., Wilson, R., Stacey, Me., Fitzgerald, S., (2018), Understanding Work in Schools: 2018 Report to the NSW Teachers Federation, The University of Sydney and Curtin University,, accessed on 2nd September 2022.
  1. Gershenson, S., Holt, S., (2022), How much do teachers struggle with stress and burnout?, Brown Center Chalkboard,, accessed on 7th September 2022.


  1. SafeWork NSW, (2021), The NSW Code of Practice – Managing psychological hazards, NSW Government.