A bullying case wherein a young worker was set on fire by a co-worker points to serious workplace health and safety system deficiencies, says legal experts.
Prominent anti-bullying lawyer Moira Rayner is pushing for the establishment of a national tribunal to allow civil claims. In an interview with ABC News, she said that bullying laws in Australia is unsatisfactory because it does not give the victim a personal right of redress.
“I have always regarded bullying as a failure by management and all our bullying laws is unsatisfactory because they don’t give the individual a personal right of redress,” she said. “If they make a WorkCover claim or a WorkSafe claim and it doesn’t end up because of technicalities in addressing their problems, then the person who’s been bullied, victimised and psychologically of not physically harmed may well have on top of that a sense of grave injustice.”
She also said the case of the young worker set on fire by a bully co-worker is not isolated and that WorkSafe could and should have done more.
“When someone could’ve been killed in a classic apprentice-playing-with-fire incident, there should’ve been an immediate and effective intervention in the workplace so the employer, the employees and the apprentices got the message very loud and clear that this could’ve ended up in a manslaughter charge.”
According to ABC News, the autistic victim started work in early January at a farm machinery dealership in Shepparton as a diesel mechanic when a co-worker squirted him with highly flammable cleansing solvents and was set on fire. As a result, he suffered burns to his legs and was brought to the hospital.
The apprentice who set him on fire retained his job after pleading guilty to assault in Shepparton Magistrates Court in August. He was given a 12-month good behaviour bond and a fine of $ 500.
WorkSafe, which investigated the incident, decided not to take any action because of the police charges.
The victim’s family plans to lodge a victims-of-crime complaint with the Director of Public Prosecutions.