Victoria’s health department has been charged with 58 breaches of the Occupational Health and Safety Act over its hotel quarantine program.
The Department of Health was responsible for the oversight and co-ordination of the state’s first hotel quarantine program between March and July 2020.
Following a 15 month investigation, WorkSafe has concluded that the department failed to provide a safe working environment for it employees and failed to ensure that other people weren’t exposed to risks to their health and safety.
Lack of training
It alleges Health failed to station people with infection prevention and control expertise at hotels used for the program, and that the department failed to provide security guards with adequate training on face-to-face infection prevention control and the use of PPE.
It also alleges the department failed to update written instructions relating to mask-wearing 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 workplace health and safety regulator said.
Questions over procurement, human rights
It’s the latest blow to the program, which has also been criticised up for sub-par procurement practices and human rights issues.
A Victorian auditor general’s report found government agencies involved in obtaining medical and security services for the state’s COVID-19 hotel quarantine program didn’t fully follow procurement policies.
The state’s ombudsman also raised concerns about human rights issues during the pandemic relating to quarantine, travel restrictions and lockdowns.
The WorkSafe matter is listed for a filing hearing at the Magistrate’s Court on October 22.
The maximum penalty for a body corporate for each of the charges is $1.64 million, meaning the department could potentially face a total maximum penalty of $95 million.
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