New work accommodation for Torres Strait nurses

In February 2008, a nurse was raped in her remote house on Mabuiag Island.  The accommodation was provided as part of her occupation and risk assessments have identified that the house was not secure, poorly maintained and, in my opinion, unsafe. Previous SafetyAtWorkBlog posts on this issue are available HERE.

Stephen Robertson, Minister for Health
Stephen Robertson, Minister for Health

On 19 August 2008, the Queensland Minister for Health, Stephen Robertson, officially opened primary health centres on both Warraber and Erub Islands.

The Warraber Island facility cost $A4.45 million and includes:

  • two, two-bedroom staff accommodation units
  • expanded clinical areas
  • a dental chair
  • a conference room.

The $6.84 million Erub Island facility includes:

  • a three-bedroom doctor’s residence
  • two, two-bedroom staff accommodation units
  • expanded clinical areas, including a dental chair, a morgue, and a conference room for video conferencing.

The media release emphasizes a feature rarely mentioned:

“Both centres have secure accommodation units to ensure the safety of local health staff.”

Theses costs are for upgraded clinics with very good facilities and housing is only part of the projects.

Beth Mohle, Assistant Secretary with the Queensland Nurses Union, told me today that the official opening of these facilities had been delayed for several months due to the difficult of providing a reliable electricity supply to the clinics.  These facilities had been planned for a considerable time, well before the February 2008 attack.  In fact the previous facilities on Erub Island had been so bad that the facility was condemned.

Beth said that the new clinics had been assessed by the union’s OHS officer in March 2008 and found to be very suitable.  There were several minor security issues but the union was generally happy with the clinics.

A formal maintenance schedule for the facilities has been committed to be the government.

Beth said that the remaining outstanding issue for negotiation with Queensland Health is the operation of duress buttons for its members. However a trial of a satellite-based system through Skynet Mobile Communications is under way where the community police will be informed immediately of any problems.  

The underlying challenge for all OHS issues in Torres Strait seems to be the remoteness.  Many of the islands have no mobile phone communication coverage and nursing staff have only recently received automobiles.  Previously wheelbarrows were used for transporting equipment on the islands.

To update readers about the circumstances of the nurse who was attacked on Mabuig Island, the case against the attackers is still before the Courts.  The nurse is no longer working in that profession and she has a WorkCover claim relating specifically to the effects of the attack.  

Beth Mohle spoke optimistically about the progress made on the campaign to improve housing and facilities in these remote communities but we must remember the unnecessarily unsafe conditions that workers were expected to operate in.  The future may be hopeful but much of this hope is built on pain and trauma.

Could sexual abuse by priests be a breach of OHS law?

In early July 2008, serious accusations about the management of sexual abuse claims by the Australian Catholic Church came to the public attention.  Considerable debate on this current round is available in the Australian media but the ABC show Lateline started the running on the matter.  A useful starting point is an ABC news report on the initial claims.

This week I was conducting some OHS update sessions for a client in which I outlined that one of the objectives of Victoria’s OHS legislation is to

“protect the public from the health and safety risks of business activities”.

And there is a legislative obligation on employers to

“not recklessly endanger a person at a workplace”.

There is a further obligation on employees, in relation to workplace safety and the safety of the public to

“take reasonable care for self and others”.

I put the question to readers – could the sexual misconduct of priests be a potential breach of OHS law?

Remote housing audit action by Queensland government

The Queensland government has responded to the assessment reports on staff housing which includes the housing in remote locations.  The initiatives are good for the most part but it has to be noted that the motivation for action came from foreseeable, unjustified attacks on workers in isolated locations.  The safety status of the accommodation was…

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Nurse Rape – Update

According to a report on 24 April 2008, the Queensland OHS authority has issued the health department with an improvement notice over the poor security in its facilities in the Torres Strait Islands.

Workplace Health and Safety Queensland will also launch a review of Queensland Health’s security arrangements for remote accommodation across the state.

I realise that the wheels of bureaucracy take sometime to move and the action is to be applauded. But with much OHS activity, it is reactive and comes about because an organisation was deficient in its obligations to prevent injury and illness.

The attacks on employees in remote locations is not a tragedy because it happened but is a tragedy because it was allowed to happen. Foreseeable risks were not prevented.

Rape of Nurse Working Alone North of Australia

On February 5 2008, a nurse was raped in her residence on Mabuiag Island in the Torres Straits islands group north of Australia. She was the only health officer on the island and had been posted there only a few moths earlier. A 22-year-old man has been arrested and charged with burglary and rape.

The Queensland Nurses Union has called for an urgent increase in the safety and security of remote area nurses.

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On February 5 2008, a nurse was raped in her residence on Mabuiag Island in the Torres Straits islands group north of Australia. She was the only health officer on the island and had been posted there only a few moths earlier. A 22-year-old man has been arrested and charged with burglary and rape.

The Queensland Nurses Union has called for an urgent increase in the safety and security of remote area nurses.

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