Govt says TAFE building safe when teacher forced to quit
TRAINING and Skills Minister Shannon Fentiman has claimed a Nambour TAFE teaching block was not affected by mould when teacher of 18 years Lorrie Hicks was forced to resign last year suffering from ongoing respiratory complaints.
Yet less than a year after Mrs Hicks' departure the building - which had been subject to complaints dating back to 2010 - has been closed down, fumigated and now was to be extensively renovated because of mould.
Mrs Hicks' WorkCover claim to cover medical expenses was rejected despite letters of support from work colleagues detailing their own respiratory issues and the state of the classrooms.
She has now sought a review of a WorkCover decision despite evidence from her doctor and Dr Andrew Jeremijenko, a specialist in Occupational and Environmental Medicine, that the mould was the most likely cause of her condition.
"The claim for the cover of medical expenses was handled by WorkCover and at the time Ms Hicks raised concerns about mould, TAFE Queensland made sure professional testing was undertaken to ensure the safety of staff and students," Ms Fentiman said.
"TAFE Queensland ensured it investigated Ms Hicks' concerns. As a result of the air quality testing and the 2018 WorkSafe investigation, there were found to be no safety issues at TAFE Queensland Nambour campus during Ms Hicks' employment.
"While recent reports relate to the period post Ms Hick's employment, I have requested TAFE to share the most recent independent Council-certified Indoor Environment Consultant advice and ensure any questions she has can be answered by independent experts."
During her time in the building Mrs Hicks said poster and pictures had fallen from walls because of dampness and mould had been identified in air-conditioning units and on walls and other surfaces. She refutes the Minister's claim the matter was not reported saying it was documented in staff meeting minutes.
When Ms Hicks called in WorkSafe to audit the building in March, 2018, she described constant lung infections and cough since 2010 and wet, moist conditions and mould in classroom 205 and all classrooms and the staff room on the 'D' block ground floor.
Ms Hicks said she had taken six months unpaid leave in 2016 during which time her replacement complained about mould and was relocated. She said the room had not been tested at that time.
She said she was not examined by a WorkCover appointed specialist until six months after she retired by which time extensive rehabilitation and the changed environment had helped resolved her condition.
"The health and safety of staff and students are the top priority of TAFE Queensland, this is why air quality testing was conducted in 2015 by Opira Pty Ltd Environmental Risk Management with results showing the quality was good," Ms Fentiman said.
However Freedom of Information documents obtained by Mrs Hicks revealed issues with air-conditioning unit cleanliness and fungal levels in the teaching block.
The Opira report raised by the Minister noted fungi levels were above recommended guidelines in wall-mounted split A/C system supply air diffusers in four classrooms. It described indoor air quality as "relatively good" but called for a non-operating outdoor air supply to one room to be investigated.
Surface micro-organisms in four of six samples taken for that report were also found to be considerably in excess of recommended fungi levels.
The report made six recommendations around cleanliness and repair of air-conditioning systems.
"The Workplace Health and Safety Queensland in 2018 also showed that TAFE Queensland had met all obligations as an operator of a workplace to provide a safe workplace and communicate with staff and students," Ms Fentiman said.
She said after test results were received by TAFE Queensland on May 9 this year as part of preparations for scheduled renovations "immediate action was taken to ensure staff and students were able to work and learn in a safe environment". Ms Fentiman said a certified indoor environment consultant had said last week mould ecology levels were within a 'normal' range and risk from inhalation was low.