Charges over Vic's initial hotel plan
WorkSafe Victoria has charged the state’s Department of Health with 58 breaches of OHS laws over its initial hotel quarantine program.
The Victorian Department of Health, has been charged with 17 breaches of Section 21(1) of the Occupational Health and Safety Act, in that it failed to provide and maintain, as far as reasonably practicable, a working environment that was safe and without risks to health for its employees.
The department has been charged with a further 41 breaches of section 23 (1) of the OHS Act, in that it failed to ensure, so far as was reasonably practicable, that persons other than employees were not exposed to risks to their health and safety arising from conduct of its undertaking.
As the COVID-19 pandemic reached Australia in March 2020, the Department of Health was responsible for the oversight and co-ordination of Operation Soteria; Victoria's first hotel quarantine program.
WorkSafe alleges that the Department of Health breached OHS laws by failing to appoint people with infection prevention and control (IPC) expertise to be stationed at hotels it was utilising for the program.
It alleges the department failed to provide security guards with face-to-face infection prevention control training by a person with expertise in IPC prior to them commencing work, and either failed, or initially failed, to provide written instruction for the use of PPE.
WorkSafe further alleges the department failed to update written instructions relating to the wearing of masks at several of the hotels.
In all charges, WorkSafe alleges that Department of Health employees, Victorian Government Authorised Officers on secondment, or security guards were put at risk of serious illness or death through contracting COVID-19 from an infected returned traveller, another person working in the hotels or from a contaminated surface.
The maximum penalty for a body corporate for each of these charges is $1.64 million (9000 penalty units).
WorkSafe said in a statement that its investigation took 15 months, including a review of tens of thousands of documents, and witness interviews.
A review of the material from last year's COVID-19 Hotel Quarantine Inquiry provided much of the context and information that informed the investigation.
The judicial inquiry last year slammed the hotel quarantine program, finding it had been put together so hastily that nobody sufficiently considered the impact on public health and the spread of COVID-19.
The quarantine program was subsequently restarted, with the State Government launching a dedicated agency, COVID-19 Quarantine Victoria (CQV), to oversee all elements of the program.
The inquiry, headed by former judge Jennifer Coate, was slammed for determining “no person or agency claimed any responsibility” for the decision to use private security guards in hotel quarantine.
WorkSafe appears not to be pushing to prosecute any individuals over the debacle.
“Inquiries into other entities associated with this investigation including hotels, security firms and other Government departments and agencies have concluded,” it said.
The matter is listed for a filing hearing at the Magistrates' Court on 22 October.