Prosecutions

Austin Health fined after nurse assaulted

Last week Austin Health was fined $30,000 after pleading guilty to breaching section 21 of the OHS Act in failing to alert a nurse that a patient was having paranoid delusions about him, or take steps to redeploy him. The nurse was assaulted by the patient, who used a motorcycle battery in a bag as a weapon.

The Heidelberg Magistrates Court heard that in October 2017, the hospital's Secure Extended Care Unit Ward had a patient with treatment-resistant schizophrenia and a history of psychotically driven violence. He was known to develop delusional beliefs that led to violent behaviour, including becoming fixated on a person he believed was trying to kill him.

A few days before the assault, the patient's daughter contacted Austin Health multiple times to warn that her father believed the nurse was trying to kill him. Although the nurse the patient was then told the patient was experiencing paranoid delusions, he was not told they involved him.

The employer failed to alert the nurse that he was at risk of physical violence, or provide him with the option to leave work or be deployed until the risk abated, in accordance with Austin Health's policies, the Court found. The court fined Austin Health without conviction.  Source: OHSAlert 

Repeat offender Diamond Valley Pork fined $130k after worker's hand crushed

Also last week, meat processing plant operator Diamond Valley Pork Pty Ltd was fined $130,000 (plus $4256 in costs) for breaching sections 21(1) and 21(2)(a) of the OHS Act, after a worker to reach into a machine with inadequate guarding to grab a fallen object, and his hand was crushed in January last year.

The worker was operating the casing machine when a knife fell into its offal chute, which had a pneumatic ram that pushed waste into a disposal area. The worker's hand became entrapped and seriously injured.

In January 2014, the company had identified the risk of workers sustaining crushing, entanglement, entrapment or shearing injuries accessing the area near the ram, and installed a guard.  However, the guard was inadequate and did not prevent workers from accessing the danger area. Within one day of the incident, the employer was able to create a different guard that eliminated this risk by preventing access, the Werribee Magistrates’ Court heard.

Diamond Valley, which pleaded guilty and was convicted, has previously been fined a total of $145,000 over two incidents where workers' fingers were crushed by moving machine parts.  Source: OHSAlert

Hire company in Victoria fined $85K over worker’s death

United Access Pty Ltd, a hire company, was last week convicted and fined $85,000 in the Melbourne County Court following the August 2017 death of a worker who was thrown from a mobile elevated work platform (EWP).

The man was loading an EWP onto a truck when a passing vehicle made contact with the EWP’s bucket. He was ejected from the bucket and suffered serious head injuries. He died later in hospital.

WorkSafe Victoria alleged the company failed to have a written system of work that required, as a default position, that loading and unloading of EWPs occurred within the premises or, where this was not reasonably practicable, a system of work that allowed safe loading or unloading in front of the site. The company also failed to have a written system of work defining what additional precautions were needed when loading or unloading occurred on the road or communicate the system of work to truck drivers who attended the site.

WorkSafe Executive Director of Health and Safety Julie Nielsen said the death was a tragic reminder of the importance of having safe systems of work in place and communicating them with both employees and contractors who enter work sites. “It is critical that employers outline to workers the work that needs to be done, the potential risks involved, and identify how the risks must be controlled,” said Ms. Nielsen. “Not doing so means workers are exposed to extreme danger and employers can face enormous consequences."

While a successful prosecution of an employer who has so clearly failed in providing workers with a safe and healthy working environment is positive, $85,000 for the preventable death of a worker seems tragically inadequate. The VTHC hopes that following the introduction of the Workplace Manslaughter legislation, there will be higher fines, and even jail sentences for employers who flout the law.  Read more: WorkSafe media release 

To find out whether there are any new prosecutions before next week, check WorkSafe Prosecution Result Summaries and Enforceable Undertakings webpage.

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