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Maximum penalty awarded for unsafe work practices

Mental Health First Aid Training

The Melbourne Magistrates Court has imposed the maximum penalty on Court Services Victoria (CSV) for its failure to fulfill its obligations under the Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004 (Vic) (the Act). CSV pleaded guilty for neglecting to cultivate a work environment supportive of employee mental health. Consequently, CSV received the maximum fine of $379,157 under the Act.

During the proceedings, the Court heard numerous complaints were made spanning the period from 2015 to 2018. These complaints highlighted instances of inappropriate conduct, including verbal abuse, derogatory remarks, intimidation, privacy breaches, and perceived hindrances to career advancement. Regrettably, CSV neglected to address these grievances, leading to a distressing scenario where several employees took stress leave. Tragically, one employee’s struggles culminated in a devastating loss of life by suicide.

CSV is the overseer of the Coroners Court of Victoria, tasked with investigating unexpected deaths in Victoria. However, within the confines of the court, significant mental health hazards existed. These hazards were attributed to the presence of traumatic materials and the prevalence of improper workplace behaviors.

Magistrate Glenn Walsh said the impact of CSV’s apparent lack of action weighs heavily, causing deep distress. This decision holds a sobering reminder for employers nationwide of their mandated duty to safeguard both the physical and psychological health of their employees.

Within the ACT these duties fall under the Work Health and Safety Act 2011. To avert work-related psychological injuries, proactive engagement with employees is so important. Employers need to take time to consult with employees and collectively identify potential mental health hazards. Employers must implement robust control measures tailored to address any identified hazards and reinforced by comprehensive training, policies and procedures outlining reporting mechanisms and support systems.

Additional information on how to manage the physical and psychological health of employees can be found in the ACT Work Health and Safety (Managing Psychosocial Hazards at Work Code of Practice) Approval 2023. Employers are encouraged to continually review their practices to ensure compliance under the work health and safety legislation.

If you need more information on how to meet your obligations, please reach out to the Workplace Relations and Legal Team on 02 6175 5900.