The SA Employment Tribunal has sent a stern warning to all workers and employers that “hazing” (teasing of new employees) may be seen as a serious breach of the Work Health and Safety Act.
In a recent decision, Deputy President Cole outlined that a site supervisor and qualified electrician, was present when another worker set certain items on fire, including the shoes and shirt of a fellow worker. The supervisor took no steps to prevent the conduct, and squirted flammable liquid onto a burning shirt worn by an apprentice. Fortunately, the apprentice was not seriously injured.
The supervisor lost his job as a result of the conduct, and was charged with breaching the WHS Act as he owed a safety duty to the apprentice and took no steps to discharge that duty. He pleaded guilty, had no prior offences, and characterised the conduct as high jinx gone wrong, with no intent to cause injury or harm. He argued that no conviction should be recorded.
DP Cole disagreed, recording a conviction and fining The supervisor $12,000 in addition to court costs and other fees of an additional $1332. This was after a discount for a guilty plea, and taking into account the loss of long-term employment.
What lessons should we take from this?
There is a massive difference between asking an apprentice for a ‘left-handed’ hammer, or for a can of striped paint, on the one hand, and setting them on fire on the other. Physical bullying of any sort will never be treated as “harmless fun” under the WHS Act, and even innocent “teasing” should be avoided. The potential adverse consequences under the WHS Act and in worker’s compensation entitlements, not to mention lost productivity and workplace tension, far outweigh any “benefit” from such teasing.
All workers and employers must be aware of their duty to prevent, insofar as reasonably practicable, such conduct from occurring. “I didn’t do it” is no defence, and serious penalties and fines can result.
For any assistance or training in this area please contact the MTA’s Workplace Relations team by clicking here or by calling 8291 2000.