WorkSafe takes a second bite of the cherry

WorkSafe announced it filed charges against the body corporate of St. Basil’s Age Care, over alleged breaches to the Occupational Health and Safety Act, following the deadly Covid outbreak at its Fawkner residential aged care facility in 2020. The charges are set to be heard in Melbourne Magistrates’ Court next Monday on August 1.

The charges are similar to those laid against the Victorian Department of Health for alleged breaches in the Victorian hotel quarantine debacle, yet the narrative around both investigations is quite different.

Hotel Quarantine was a major undertaking by a huge machinery of people at the Department of Health, and also involved decision-making by several senior leaders of the state. It was a program to house thousands of returned travellers across multiple sites (20 in total). The complexities of investigating OH&S breaches on these facts alone indicate the enormity of the task.

Hotel Quarantine was linked to around 800 deaths and the prolonging of the longest and strictest continuous lockdown suffered in the world. WorkSafe took 15 months to complete the Hotel Quarantine investigation, compared to the 23 months it took to investigate the single facility at St. Basil’s.

For St. Basil’s failures it received a variety of breach charges relating to the OH&S Act in regards to a failure to maintain a predictable and low-risk working environment. It was alleged by WorkSafe that at St. Basil’s a total of 94 staff tested positive while 45 residents died from Covid-related complications.

In the case against the Department of Health, with no persons in particular attributed any fault, it received a total of 58 breach charges across Section 21(1) and 23(1). There were no claims of infection or death attributed to the breaches against the Department of Health, despite the contents of the Coate inquiry.

The Coate inquiry included submissions detailing;

  • A total of 236 returned travellers tested positive to Covid during the Hotel Quarantine program.
  • 35 staff (overwhelmingly security guards) contracted Covid whilst working at one of two Hotel Quarantine sites.
  • The Department of Health contracts signed with security firms placed accountability and responsibility for sickness or death as a result of staff contracting Covid with the security firm, where it was the responsibility of the security firm to organise training and protective equipment.
  • 99 per cent of Victoria’s second wave of Covid cases were genomic-sequence linked to just these two outbreaks in the Hotel Quarantine program.
  • 801 deaths occurred during Victoria’s second wave of Covid, that were attributed to Covid.
  • 80 per cent of those deaths (about 640 people) were from Victorian nursing homes.

It almost feels like the WorkSafe investigation of St. Basil’s is a second bite of the cherry. If the alleged charges against St. Basil’s are later upheld in August, the related fines will be paid by a private entity, but when it comes to the Victorian Department of Health, you and I will be paying for government mistakes via our tax dollars.

Is this true accountability for government departments that make mistakes?

Source: The Spectator

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