On 29 March 2023, a Museum’s Work Health, Safety and Risk Manager was sentenced in the Brisbane Magistrates Court for breaching section 32 of the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 (‘the Act’), having failed to comply with her primary health and safety duty pursuant to section 28(b) of the Act.
The defendant was employed by a Museum at South Brisbane in Brisbane. The scope of the Museum’s activities extended to the preparation of animals to be presented as exhibits. The preparation area for these exhibits was known as the ‘evisceration area’. Work within that area included sourcing and preparation of exhibits which entailed carcasses (including macropods) being skinned, flesh being stripped from the carcasses and, either preparation of a skeleton as the exhibit or a mould being formed and the skin reapplied. At times, the work also involved collection by Museum staff and subsequent receipt of carcasses from ‘roadkill’ or animal care facilities. The work entailed exposure to animal organs and fluids, carrying with it, the risk to workers of exposure to animals that may carry the Q-Fever virus.
In January 2019, a worker employed by the Museum area was diagnosed with a spinal abscess resulting from chronic Q-Fever.
From at least 2015, the defendant was aware of the risk of Q-Fever to Museum staff carrying out taxidermy work. In June 2015, the defendant attended a Workplace Health and Safety Presentation on biological hazards headed by an Inspector who spoke to the defendant personally regarding the illness risks from taxidermy work on native animals. On 15 and 16 October 2015, the defendant exchanged communications with the Inspector that specifically dealt with queries raised by the defendant concerning Q-Fever exposure for museum works and the controls available to manage the risk from exposure. Following this, the defendant commenced a risk assessment but failed to finalise it. No controls were implemented.
In sentencing, Magistrate Noud considered the large volume of material placed before him and took into account the defendant’s timely plea of guilty, reducing the penalty that would have otherwise been imposed. His Honour had regard to the purpose of the Act and considered that the need to protect workers against harm to their health and safety from risks arising at work was paramount.
His Honour accepted that after consulting with the Inspector, the defendant ought to have raised the information with her line manager and undertaken or ensured a risk assessment was finalised.
In determining the objective seriousness of the offending, his Honour considered that there had never been a case of Q-Fever in taxidermy and that the injured worker in this matter may have been the first case. While his Honour accepted that the potential consequences were serious, he considered the risk to be very low to remote. Similarly, his Honour noted that while steps to minimize the risk were not burdensome, the low probability of the risk materializing put it in an exceptional category, further reducing the objective seriousness. In light of these factors, his Honour considered that the defendant was not an appropriate vehicle for general deterrence.
In mitigation, his Honour accepted that the defendant had established a successful career in Work Health and Safety, and that after consulting with the Inspector, had started preparing a risk assessment albeit failing to finalise it. His Honour also noted that workers performing taxidermy work were more experienced than the defendant. His Honour had regard to the defendant’s personal circumstances, noting that at the relevant time, her workload was large, she received counselling and treatment for depression and was of a mature age. His Honour accepted that the defendant was highly regarded within her field and in the community, that she had demonstrated genuine remorse and had cooperated with the investigation. His Honour also observed that ‘equal justice’ was to be considered, noting that the Museum was undergoing the enforceable undertaking process, the acceptance of which would result in the Museum not being required to enter a plea of guilty.
At the conclusion of his remarks, his Honour considered the financial status of the defendant as demonstrating a limited capacity to pay. In light of these factors, as well as comparable decisions referred to by both the prosecution and defence, His Honour imposed a good behaviour bond with a recognizance of $1,500 for 12 months, along with $1099.70 in costs which he referred to SPER. No conviction was recorded.
OWHSP contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
Work Health and Safety Act 2011 (Qld) ss 28/32