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Melissa Cole, William Duncan State School

Category ten – Best demonstrated leadership in work health and safety and return to work

Melissa Cole is the Director – Centre of Musical Excellence at William Duncan State School. She wears dual hats and is also the Health and Safety Advisor and Return to Work Coordinator.

Since being in this position, Melissa has assisted in implementing a number of health and safety measures in the workplace, completed annual audits and review of processes, and engaged with internal and external stakeholders to further improve safety standards. Through continuous stakeholder consultation and feedback, she has helped develop and implement William Duncan State School’s 2022–23 Wellbeing Action Plan that focuses on self-care and 'you do you'.

Since taking on these dual responsibilities at the school, Melissa has established a working WHS committee consisting of representatives from throughout the school including ground staff, cleaners, managers, teachers, the Deputy Principal and Principal. Meeting regularly, the establishment of this group has contributed to staff actively being involved in WHS and is credited with instilling WHS practices, policies and procedures into the school’s culture. In Melissa’s role as a rehabilitation and return to work coordinator, she has developed several return to work plans and provided staff with information, support and assistance.

Using a collaborative style of leadership, Melissa works with colleagues and school leadership to achieve school and departmental expectations. She uses an open and engaging interpersonal style to build rapport and gain respect of students, staff and parents, fostering shared values.

Melissa works collaboratively with her team to deliver quality health and safety outcomes and has developed a variety of resources and provided professional development opportunities to ensure health and safety is an integral part of the school culture.

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My name's Melissa Cole. I am the Music Director and music teacher at William Duncan State School, and I've been here for about 24 years. I took over the workplace health and safety role in 2018. It wasn't anything that I'd had any experience with before, so we worked through it with a new Principal who came in at the same time, and that was the beginning of our workplace health and safety journey.

The key things that we put in place for workplace health and safety are to have a functioning workplace health and safety committee. The second thing we put in place was developing our annual safety audit. The third thing was developing timetables and checklists for our annual audits and updates to our policies and procedures.

We've also put in risk management for our playgrounds and our supervision from staff and parents in those playgrounds. So those are probably the ones that we're proud of the most. When we first did our first ASA in 2018, we scored 68 out of 100, which, for a perfectionist like myself, was a devastating score, but in terms of here's where we're at and here's what we need to do to improve, it was an amazing way for us to move forward.

And I'm happy to say that when we completed our ASA this year, we scored 99, so, so close. It gives us something to strive for in 2024. Mel's very relational in her approach. She's very driven. She has a unique ability to make the complex simple, which is a sign of a great leader in itself. Workplace health and safety is hugely complex, and she can wade through all the process and policy and put things into a simple format that are very people-centered.

I think it's the culture. Mel has really given us a really good culture around workplace health and safety and wellbeing. That's what she does for the staff. I think the most rewarding part is knowing that we are creating a space in the school that's a safe and happy environment for the staff and for the kids to achieve their best outcomes every day.

And any business studies have shown that if your work feels safe and supported, then the results that you're going to get are always going to be better. If we were to win the award, I personally would be super excited. I would love to share that with the staff, and I would hope that by having a primary school win the award, it would encourage other schools to really step up and celebrate and showcase the great works that are happening in their workspaces as well.