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SA government departments responsible for tragic worker death

Who polices the police? When it comes to health and safety law, the health and safety regulators do.

SafeWork SA has brought charges against South Australia Police and the state’s Department of Planning, Transport and Infrastructure (DPTI) after a cook working at the Echunga Police Training Reserve tragically died after becoming trapped in a walk-in freezer in 2016.

The 54-year-old worker was working alone when she became stuck in the freezer and died of hypothermia.

It was several hours before she was discovered. The alarm was eventually raised by her husband when she didn’t come home after her shift.

SafeWork SA Executive Director Martyn Campbell said that the freezer’s lock “wasn’t working effectively” and “a number of failures” had led to the worker’s death.

“We remind all employers to be aware of plant and machinery used in their business and ensure it is risk assessed and regularly maintained,” Mr Campbell said.

“It is critical that workplace hazards are identified, recorded and dealt with to ensure the likelihood of injury is eliminated or controlled to an acceptable level.

“We remind everyone that lives can actually depend on whether the employer meets its obligations for worker safety

“Even seemingly simple things like regular maintenance or a “buddy system” so people do not work alone can make all the difference at a workplace

“Every employer has a duty to ensure their workers return home safely after work,” he said.

In the South Australian Employment Tribunal on November 21, SafeWork SA laid charges against SA Police and the DPTI.

Both the government departments had shown conduct that constituted a criminal offence under the Work Health and Safety Act 2012 (SA), for failing to comply with their health and safety duties that exposed the worker to a risk of death or serious injury.

The departments face maximum penalties of $1.5 million each.

Frances Nelson, the lawyer acting for SA Police and the DPTI said SA Police will be entering a guilty plea “at the earliest opportunity”, but there “were still issues to work out” with the DPTI.

The case has been adjourned and returns to court on December 19.

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