2 min read

When work health and safety breaches bite

In March this year, the Western Australian Department of Justice pleaded guilty to breaching the state’s work health and safety legislation after an employee was attacked by a drug-detection dog at Hakea Prison.

The employee, who is a drug detection officer with 30 years’ experience, had expressed safety concerns about the two new multi-purpose dogs purchased by the Department. The two partially trained dogs were highly prone to aggression and were acquired before a proper in-person assessment could take place. Furthermore, the Department had failed to secure the appropriate choker collars or carry out the kennel modifications necessary to safely house the dogs before their arrival.

On the day of the incident, the employee was tasked with removing the dogs from their kennels for their day runs. As the officer partially opened the kennel door to fit the choker collar, one of the dogs latched onto his right arm, dragging him into the kennel. The dog disobeyed the officer’s commands and continued to attack. The officer was hospitalised with serious injuries to both forearms, which required surgical intervention and 120 stitches.

The Department was fined $900,000 and ordered to pay costs, having failed to discharge its safety duty that was owed to its employees. The key failings of the Department included its failure to:

  • conduct the necessary modifications to the kennel complex, despite being aware of the dogs’ aggression and bite capabilities;
  • adopt non-contact kennel release systems, which are in place at comparable workplaces;
  • conduct an in-person assessment before acquiring the dogs; and
  • carry out a risk assessment before the arrival of the dogs.

The Department adopted a range of safety measures following the incident, which included:

  • creating a risk log;
  • installing non-contact kennels;
  • modifying the kennel doors to swing inwards, making them easier for handlers to close if the dogs become aggressive;
  • improving onsite first aid kits; and
  • installing cameras and duress alarms for emergencies.

In Australia, employers have a health and safety duty under work health and safety legislation to take reasonably practicable steps to prevent the risk of harm that animals pose to any worker or visitor in their workplace. In industries where animal attacks are foreseeable, employers should ensure that all workers are trained in how to avoid an adverse interaction with the animal. In the case of dog attacks, training can be given on how to recognise the safest access route to a property. Employers should also provide training to help workers identify particular dog breeds that are prone to bite or attack, and the signs of aggression which these animals may exhibit.

You can find out more about meeting your health and safety obligations in relation to animals in the workplace in the Health & Safety Handbook chapter, Animals in the Workplace.

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