Murray Bridge disability care provider fined over sexual assault
The employer of a support worker who was assaulted by a client in 2020 has been convicted at the South Australian Employment Tribunal.
A disability care provider has been fined $72,000 after a sexual assault at a residential facility in Murray Bridge.
An SA Support Services staff member was working an overnight shift in June 2020 when a male client grabbed her from behind, forcibly took her into an office area and attempted to remove some of her clothing.
The client only stopped when he was interrupted by the arrival of another person.
The worker had not been provided with adequate warnings about the client’s aggressive sexual behaviour before being left alone in the workplace, South Australian Employment Tribunal deputy president Stuart Cole ruled on December 20.
In 2019, a clinical psychologist had assessed the client as having an intellectual handicap, a psychopathic personality and an interest in violent sex acts, and as posing a severe danger to others.
He had previously been convicted for a sexual assault against a female support worker, and had threatened and harassed other female workers in the lead-up to the attack.
The client was arrested and later received a prison sentence for his offending.
The case then came to the South Australian Employment Court after a Safework SA investigation.
SA Support Services pleaded guilty to the charge of failing to comply with a health and safety duty.
However, the care provider argued that the assault might never have happened if two requests for additional funding from the National Disability Insurance Agency, for one-on-one supervision and care, had not been knocked back.
In handing down the sentence, Mr Cole described the care provider’s workplace safety procedures at the time as “seriously deficient”.
“It is vital that employers identify the risk of physical and sexual violence, harassment and discrimination in workplaces,” he said.
“They must eliminate the risk or, if that is not possible, reduce it as far as reasonably practicable.
“It is not good enough to have plans in place; those plans need to be fully considered, implanted and senior leaders need to verify the controls are working.
“Staff need to be made fully aware of the risks and the controls to mitigate them.”
In a victim impact statement, the worker suggested better staff training, regular health and safety meetings, duress alarms and specialised supervision for high-risk clients were all needed in the workplace.
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