From 1 July 2020, organisations can face fines of $16.5 million or executives can face up to 25 years in jail under new workplace manslaughter laws, which make negligent conduct by an employer that breaches OH&S laws and causes the death of another person a criminal offence.
The law does not apply retrospectively.
WorkSafe Victoria has written to at least 30 aged care providers in relation to about 50 aged care homes asking them to prove they did not breach OH&S laws during last year’s devastating COVID-19 outbreaks, states a report in The Age.
According to the news outlet, aged care providers have been advised that if found guilty of breaching workplace laws that led to the deaths of residents, they could be charged under the new laws.
The Age confirmed that Estia Health Aged Care, Japara Healthcare and Benetas Aged Care, among others, have all been issued with WorkSafe notices.
WorkSafe will conduct a formal investigation into the matter, but for now is asking facilities to provide information about who was responsible for infection control, contact tracing, the adequacy of personal protective equipment (PPE) and planning for surge workforces.
They are also asking to be provided with details of rosters, outbreak management plans, training, and lists of all residents and staff.
News of the WorkSafe inquiries comes after the first week of coronial inquest hearings into the shocking COVID-19 outbreak at St Basil’s Fawker, in which 45 residents died.
The Age has reported that Paul Sadler, chief executive of not-for-profit aged care peak body Aged and Community Services Australia (ACSA), said the sector “welcomed scrutiny” but facilities’ responses to the pandemic were hampered by “a chaotic vaccine rollout, severe lack of resources, equipment and staff”.
“The sector’s response to this deadly pandemic has been a huge feat and is a testament to the hard work and passion of our workforce,” Mr Sadler said.
“WorkSafe Victoria must guarantee that its investigation does not distract providers and staff from the first priority of keeping residents safe,” he continued, noting that there are active COVID-19 outbreaks in aged care homes at the moment.
WorkSafe Victoria is already investigating outbreaks at St Basil’s, Kalyna Aged Care, Kirkbrae Presbyterian homes, Mecwacare and Epping Gardens, according to The Age.
If WorkSafe Victoria gathers enough information to warrant charges, it must issue charges within two years of the offence occurring.
By making office holders and organisations criminally responsible for decisions that result in a death, WorkSafe Victoria hopes there will be a strong incentive for duty holders to comply with OH&S obligations.
HelloCare will follow WorkSafe Victoria’s investigation with interest, and keep our readers informed.