Heritage Care charged after deadly COVID-19 outbreak

WorkSafe has charged Heritage Care Pty Ltd with three breaches of the Occupational Health and Safety Act following a deadly COVID-19 outbreak at its Epping Gardens residential aged care facility at Epping in 2020.

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Published: 11 July 2022

WorkSafe alleges that between 13 March 2020 and 20 July 2020, when the outbreak commenced, Heritage Care failed to train staff in relation to:

  • The items of personal protective equipment (PPE) required to be worn
  • The safe donning and doffing of PPE
  • When PPE should be changed
  • The safe disposal of PPE

Eighty-nine residents and 65 staff developed COVID-19 during the course of the outbreak, with 34 residents subsequently dying from COVID-19 related complications.

Heritage Care has been charged with a breach of sections 21(1) and 21(2)(e) of the OHS Act, in that it failed to provide such training as necessary to enable its employees to perform their work safely and without risks to health.

WorkSafe has also charged the aged care provider with a breach of section 23 of the OHS Act in that it failed to ensure, so far as was reasonably practicable, that persons other than its employees were not exposed to risks to their health or safety arising from conduct of its undertaking.

The aged care provider has been further charged with a breach of section 26 of the OHS Act in that it failed to ensure, so far as was reasonably practicable, that its workplace was safe and without risk to health.

The maximum penalty for a body corporate for each of these offences is a fine of 9000 penalty points ($1.49 million at the time of the alleged offence).

This complex investigation took 22 months to complete and involved reviewing thousands of pages of documents and multiple witness interviews.

A review of the Communicable Diseases Network Australia's National Guidelines for the Prevention, Control and Public Health Management of COVID-19 Outbreaks in Residential Care Facilities in Australia, that included Guidelines on the use of personal protective equipment, that were published in March 2020 and updated in April 2020, provided relevant context and information that informed parts of the investigation.

The decision to prosecute has been made in accordance with WorkSafe's General Prosecution Guidelines, which require WorkSafe to consider whether there is sufficient evidence to support a reasonable prospect of conviction and whether bringing a prosecution is in the public interest.

The matter is listed for a filing hearing at the Melbourne Magistrates' Court on 8 August and WorkSafe will not be providing further comment, as the matter is now before the court.

A number of other investigations relating to the control of COVID-19 related risks in workplaces remain ongoing.