In June 2010 WorkSafe WA began investigating the 2008 death from heat stroke of 46-year-old aboriginal elder Mr Ward. According to one media report :
“A broken air conditioner forced Mr Ward to endure temperatures above 50 degrees during the non-stop, four-hour journey to face a drink-driving charge in court.”
The same article noted that in June 2010 the Director of Public Prosecutions Joe McGrath announced that no charges would be laid against two security guards over the 46-year-old’s death.
On 19 January 2011, WorkSafe announced that it
“… will prosecute the State of Western Australia (Department of Corrective Services), government contractor G4S Custodial Services Pty Ltd (formerly GSL Custodial Services Pty Ltd) and the two drivers involved in the death of Mr Ward in January 2008.”
WorkSafe notes in its media release that
“A Coronial Inquest was completed in May 2009, with the State Coroner Alastair Hope concluding that all four parties [listed in the above quote] contributed to the death.”
An audio statement from the WorkSafe WA Commissioner Nina Lyhne is available below
It is expected that WorkSafe’s decision will create considerable debate in Western Australia due to the previous decision of the Director of Public Prosecutions but WorkSafe’s action has broad relevance throughout Australia because it shows a further context for the application of OHS laws. The action also puts government departments on notice that they are not exempt from OHS prosecutions.
In the case of Mr Ward’s death, Worksafe believes that
“The Department had control over the van, and it is alleged that the van was not adequately maintained.”
“…the Department did not ensure that the contractor (G4S) had safe systems of work in place for the transportation of persons in custody.”
“G4S, as the employer, [failed] to ensure that the safety and health of a person not being an employee is not adversely affected by the work being undertaken, and by that failure, causing the death of Mr Ward.”
“The two drivers of the van, as employees, have been charged with failing to take reasonable care to avoid adversely affecting the safety or health of another person through an act or omission at work, and by that failure, causing the death of Mr Ward.”
OHS professionals will be familiar with the concepts on an (un)safe system of work, inadequate maintenance, poor contractor oversight, and the failure to look after people in a workplace or those affected by work activities.
A spokesperson for the Department of Corrective Services advises that a media statement will be available later this afternoon over this matter.
G4S has attracted attention in Australia previously over its performance. According to one media report, in Victoria in 2008
”…the Victorian Ombudsman and the Office of Police Integrity found inadequacies in the way prisoners were transported, with insufficient attention paid to their conditions, including ”basic amenities for long trips”.
UPDATE: 19 January 2011
Below is the statement issued by the Corrective Services Commissioner Ian Johnson regarding WorkSafe’s decision to prosecute over the death of Mr Ward.
“Today, the Department of Corrective Services was formally charged as a result of the WorkSafe investigation into the death of Mr Ward in January 2008. The charge refers to failing to ensure persons who are not employees were not exposed to hazards.
I cannot comment directly on the case, or the prosecution of other parties as it is now a matter for the courts, but I can reiterate that the Department has fully cooperated with the Worksafe investigation by providing the required documentation and staff to be interviewed.
The circumstances leading to the tragic death of Mr Ward and the immense grief this has caused his family and the community will never be forgotten by me or my Department.
This tragic event led to a complete overhaul of the transportation of prisoners, continual assessment of how we can reduce the need for transport in the first place and how we can improve the safety, security and humane conditions of those who have to be transported.
Air transport and coaches now cover the long distance transport routes and other initiatives such as the establishment of Australia’s first minimum safety standards for the transport of detained persons has forever changed the delivery of this service. The process of change, of constantly striving to improve, will never cease.
The Department transports more than 35,000 prisoners annually, travelling more than two million kilometres, 1.2 million by road and 800,000 by air. This equates to 200,000 hours of road travel and 2,000 hours of air travel.
Prisoner transport on the Australia Day weekend of 2008 does not resemble the transport in January 2011 in any shape or form.
The Department has implemented all of the Coroner’s recommendations from his Inquiry into the death of Mr Ward and just last month, we completed the delivery of 40 new vehicles that meet rigorous standards. Improved staff training, contract monitoring, policies and procedures have also been implemented.
In my opinion, Western Australia is now setting the standard for prisoner transport in Australia and beyond but this doesn’t replace the loss that Mr Ward’s family and community have suffered.
Again, I offer my sincerest condolences to Mr Ward’s family and community on their loss. I cannot change the past, but will do everything in my power to ensure these tragic events are never repeated.”