Peanut allergy fatality saga to continue

Safety management in the education sector seems to be one of the hardest management challenges.  There are overlapping safety obligations through OHS legislation, education department guidelines, public health matters and meeting the demands of parents and students.

700 Peanuts - Federal Court coverA decision in the Federal Court of Australia on 30 June 2009 illustrates the challenges.

A 13 year old boy from Scotch College, in Melbourne, Nathan Francis, died after eating from a ration pack of beef satay on a Defence Forces camp.  The school, which was supervising the camp, were aware of the boy’s severe allergy to peanuts.

The Australian Department of Defence was fined over $A200,000.

The full judgement of the court raises several  issues that are relevant to the management of safety of people in one’s care.  The judge has recommended a State coronial inquest to determine the roles and responsibilities of Scotch College in Nathan’s death.

Justice for Nathan and his family is likely to have many more months to go. [ SafetyAtWorkBlog will follow the issue.]

A fantastic audio report on the decision is available at the ABC website. The payment of the fine back to the government is not dealt with in this blog.

The first section of the judgement (below) indicates what the judge believes are the failures that need to be addressed through an appropriate safety process:

  • Communication;
  • Instruction;
  • Provision of appropriate supplies;
  • The importance of labelling; and
  • Following procedures and guidelines

Some readers may find that this prosecution could make an interesting case study for safety management.

Kevin Jones

Justice North found that the Federal OHS Act was breached by the Commonwealth government through the Chief of Army.  The respondent

(a) supplied Cadet Nathan Fazal Francis, Cadet Nivae Anandaganeshan and Cadet Gene van den Broek with one-man combat ration packs (CRP’s) containing a satay beef food pouch which contained peanuts or peanut protein for their consumption despite having been informed that the said cadets were allergic to peanuts;
and, in so doing, it failed to:

(b) warn parents of the [Australian Army Cadets] AAC cadets about the contents of the CRP’s;

(c) warn AAC cadets about the contents of CRP’s;

(d) warn AAC cadets with pre-existing food allergies of the contents of CRP’s;

(e) make appropriate use of information provided by AAC cadets and parents of AAC cadets regarding pre-existing or known allergic conditions and correlate that information with the potential risk of being exposed to allergies through the supply of food contained in CRP’s;

(f) ensure that the contents of CRP’s allocated to AAC cadets did not include food products or allergens that may have triggered allergic responses by removing or requiring the removal of peanut-based food products from CRP’s;

(g) prevent distribution or provision of peanut-based food products to AAC cadets with pre-existing allergic reactions by:

i. inspecting the contents of CRP’s to be allocated to those individual AAC cadets who had given notice of allergic conditions;

ii. isolating cadets with pre-existing medical conditions and/or notified food allergies at the time of distribution of CRP’s and issuing them with CRP’s that did not contain peanut products or other food allergens;

iii. removing all CRP’s known to contain peanut protein or other food allergens from circulation amongst AAC cadets;

iv. requiring all AAC cadets with notified allergic conditions to provide their own food supplies;

(h) issue any or any adequate instructions or provide adequate supervision regarding distribution of CRP’s;

(i) issue any adequate instructions or provide adequate supervision regarding consumption of contents of CRP’s;

(j) prevent the consumption of CRP’s containing food allergens by AAC cadets with food allergies;

(k) distribute CRP’s after consulting or considering pre-existing medical conditions; and

(l) take into consideration the findings of a report dated 22 November 1996 by the Australian National Audit Office entitled ‘Management of Food Provisioning in the Australian Defence Force’.

3 thoughts on “Peanut allergy fatality saga to continue”

  1. Robyn
    Government departments rarely \”play well with each other\” on OHS issues. The problem was highlighted in an OHS review in Victoria by Chris Maxwell QC who believed that government authorities and OHS regulators should be \”exemplars\” in safety management.
    Every time WorkSafe Victoria prosecutes a school there is an outcry from the schools because their general OHS obligations (outside of those to the Education Department)have not been emphasized or their role not clarified.
    This situation is doubly difficult when a psychosocial hazard is identified in schools. WorkSafe\’s focus on workplace bullying caused enormous challenges for some in the education sector when bullying allegedly occurred between a teacher and a principal. Action was taken against the the department itself. One short article on the issue is at http://tinyurl.com.au/x.php?1vc9
    I am going to make a naive suggestion here – perhaps the education departments can instigate policies for student welfare and safety and the OHS regulators look after employee/employer safety issues? Both would need to be cognizant of the other but the reporting lines and enforcement lines would be clearer.

  2. New Zealand\’s educational sector has a similarly cavalier attitude to workplace safety. Not one of the five secondary schools my husband worked at had a H&S committe or any kind of worker representation, and the equipment and conditions staff worked with were shocking. A similar situation exists in early childhood education (don\’t know so much about the primary sector). There is a belief that, because these groups report to the Ministry of Education (NZ) they are exempt from requirements of the Health and Safety in Employment Act (NZ), which is simply not the case.

  3. A colleague has reminded me of a prosecution in December 2007 over a student injury in a high school. A student suffered a serious injury from a power tool that required micro-surgery.

    This case indicates the disjunction between workplace safety and safety in schools – same victims, same safety management concepts but different safety cultures.

    WorkSafe\’s prosecution note is available at http://tinyurl.com.au/x.php?1van

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