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SafeWork SA charges SAPOL, DPTI in death of worker at Echunga police facility

Media Release
28 September 2018

SafeWork SA has laid charges against the South Australia Police and the Department of Planning, Transport and Infrastructure for a breach of duties that resulted in the 2016 death of a 54-year-old worker.

Debra Summers was employed by SAPOL as a part-time cook and cleaner at the Echunga Training Reserve when she died of hypothermia after becoming trapped in a walk-in freezer.

SafeWork SA Executive Director Martyn Campbell said the two government departments had shown conduct that constituted a criminal offence under the Work Health and Safety Act 2012 (SA).

Summary of charges

South Australia Police – Contrary to section 19 & 32 of the Work Health and Safety Act 2012 (SA)

South Australia Police, had a health and safety duty, failed to comply with that duty and that failure exposed Debra Summers to a risk of death or serious injury.

Maximum penalty – fine of $1,500,000

Department of Planning, Transport and Infrastructure – Contrary to section 21 & 32 of the Work Health and Safety Act 2012 (SA)

Department of Planning, Transport and Infrastructure, had a health and safety duty, failed to comply with that duty and that failure exposed Debra Summers to a risk of death or serious injury.

Maximum penalty – fine of $1,500,000

Background

Under the Work Health and Safety Act 2012 (SA), SAPOL is the relevant person conducting a business or undertaking (PCBU), as the employer of Ms Summers and the owner of the site where she tragically lost her life.

DPTI is also liable as a PCBU under the Act as it is responsible for managing the maintenance of government sites such as the Echunga Training Reserve, as well as plant and equipment at the site.

Quotes attributable to SafeWork SA Executive Director Martyn Campbell

A number of failures led to this tragedy, and I offer my sympathies to Ms Summers’ family.

We remind all employers to be aware of plant and machinery used in their business and ensure it is risk assessed and regularly maintained.

It is critical that workplace hazards are identified, recorded and dealt with to ensure the likelihood of injury is eliminated or controlled to an acceptable level.

We remind everyone that lives can actually depend on whether the employer meets its obligations for worker safety.

Even seemingly simple things like regular maintenance or a “buddy system” so people do not work alone can make all the difference at a workplace.

Every employer has a duty to ensure their workers return home safely after work.