Seventeen of the charges – under section 21 (1) – relate to the failure to provide and maintain, to the extent possible, a safe working environment and no risk to the health of its employees.
41 other charges – under section 23 (1) – are allegations of failure to ensure, to the extent possible, that persons other than employees are not exposed to risks to their health and their safety resulting from the conduct of their business.
Between March and July 2020, the Department of Health was responsible for overseeing and coordinating Operation Soteria, Victoria’s first hotel quarantine program.
The state’s second wave of coronavirus last year resulted in more than 18,000 new infections, 800 deaths and a 112-day lockdown.
WorkSafe alleges the department violated OSH laws by failing to appoint people with expertise in infection prevention and control in the hotels it used.
He also alleges that the ministry failed to provide security guards with expert face-to-face infection prevention training and failed to provide written instructions on the use of personal protective equipment.
In all charges, WorkSafe alleges that Department of Health employees, authorized Victorian government officers on secondment or security guards have been at risk of serious illness or death by contracting COVID-19 from a infected returning traveler, another person working in hotels or a contaminated surface.
Each charge could result in a maximum penalty for a corporation of $ 1.64 million, meaning the department faces a potential financial penalty totaling more than $ 95 million.
WorkSafe says the program’s investigation was complex, involving the review of tens of thousands of documents and several witness interviews over 15 months.
He also looked at the elements of last year’s judicial inquiry, which led to the program overhaul in December.
The program was revamped again in April, after hotel quarantine workers contracted the UK strain COVID-19 from returning travelers in February, triggering a five-day statewide lockdown.