WorkSafe Victoria slaps St Basil’s with nine OH&S breaches over 2020 COVID-19 outbreak as 15 new cases erupt in Melbourne home

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St Basil’s Homes for the Aged in Melbourne is staring down massive fines and 15 fresh COVID-19 cases as WorkSafe Victoria officially charges the provider over the August 2020 outbreak which resulted in the deaths of 50 residents, 45 with the virus.

14 residents and one staff member have tested positive to the virus, with the Federal Department of Health and Aged Care declaring a new outbreak as of 2 July; onsite infection prevention and control services are being provided, among other Commonwealth supports.

At the same time, the work health and safety watchdog has charged the provider with nine breaches of the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHS Act) relating to the August 2020 outbreak, alleging that following a worker testing positive in July 2020, St Basil’s failed to:

  • Require workers to wear personal protective equipment (PPE);
  • Train workers how to safely don and doff PPE;
  • Verify that staff were competent in using PPE;
  • Tell staff when PPE should be used; and
  • Supervise the use of PPE.

According to WorkSafe Victoria, each of the nine breaches carries a maximum penalty of 9000 penalty units for a body corporate, or $1.49 million at the time they allegedly took place.

“This complex investigation took 23 months to complete and involved reviewing thousands of pages of documents and multiple witness interviews.

“A review of the Communicable Diseases Network Australia’s National Guidelines for the Prevention, Control and Public Health Management of COVID-19 Outbreaks in Residential Care Facilities in Australia, that included Guidelines on the use of personal protective equipment, that were published in March 2020 and updated in April 2020, provided relevant context and information that informed parts of the investigation.

“The decision to prosecute has been made in accordance with WorkSafe’s General Prosecution Guidelines, which require WorkSafe to consider whether there is sufficient evidence to support a reasonable prospect of conviction and whether bringing a prosecution is in the public interest,” the agency said.

WorkSafe will bring the charges before the Melbourne Magistrates’ Court on 1 August, and says “a number of other investigations” are ongoing with regard to COVID-19 risk control in workplaces.

A Victorian Supreme Court justice last month reserved judgment on whether former St Basil’s managers Kon Kontis and Vicky Kos should be compelled to testify before the coronial inquest into the outbreak, with the pair’s lawyers arguing that WorkSafe may decide to prosecute and they would risk self-incrimination.