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Employer slapped with hefty fine over two assaults on workers

The responsibility of an employer to ensure workers are not exposed to the risk of violence was highlighted in a Victorian case this month. The Department of Justice and Community Safety (Department) was fined a total of $100,000 following two separate assaults on youth justice workers by children in detention in 2018.

In the first incident, a youth justice worker at the Malmsbury Youth Justice Precinct was assaulted with a guitar by a child. The child was not permitted to have a guitar outside of his bedroom due to a history of violent behaviour in detention. The violence included previously hitting another child in the head and striking two guards with the guitar.

The second incident involved a youth justice worker being badly burnt on the face and later developing post-traumatic stress disorder after hot liquid was thrown in his face and he was punched and kicked by a child.

In both cases, the Court heard it was reasonably practicable for the department to provide and maintain a system of work to enforce the rules. In the first incident, the Department had failed to inform and instruct the worker about the restrictions and conditions on the use of, or access to, guitars. In the second incident, the Department had not ensured adequate training in applying the policy prohibiting hot drinks from being taken out of the kitchen area.

The Department was convicted and fined $80,000 in relation to the first incident and $20,000 for the second incident, as well as being ordered to pay costs.

Where an employer seeks to control risks through administrative processes at the workplace, it is critical that staff are properly trained and instructed in those procedures. Although in this case the outbursts of violence may have been unexpected, the risk of injury from violence was foreseeable in that working environment.

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