Jeffrey Mark Rowe is the first person in South Australia to be fined and prosecuted for a Category 1 offence under section 31 of the nationally harmonised Work Health and Safety Act 2012 (WHS Act).
The 47-year-old supervisor pleaded guilty to reckless conduct by exposing an 18-year-old electrical apprentice to a risk of death or serious injury when he was squirted with lighter fuel and set alight in a lunchtime ‘workplace prank’ on a construction site.
Mr Rowe took part in the prank with another supervisor, 28-year-old Luke Daniel Chenoweth.
Mr Chenoweth, who faces court next month, has been charged with allegedly squirting a flammable liquid onto the apprentice’s boot, pants and shirt, then using a cigarette lighter to ignite the liquid on the apprentice’s boot and shirt and chasing him around the lunchroom while threatening to light his pants.
Mr Rowe was convicted for failing to take steps to stop Mr Chenoweth from engaging in the bullying activity and failing to take steps to extinguish the flames on the apprentice’s shirt. He was also convicted for joining in the bullying by squirting more lighter fuel on the apprentice’s shirt while it was burning.
Luckily, the apprentice did not sustain any serious injuries.
Mr Rowe was fined $12,000, plus court costs, prosecution costs and a victims of crime levy. The fine was reduced from $20,000 as he provided an early guilty plea.
The employer, Tad-Mar Electrical Pty Ltd, also faces prosecution over the incident.
SafeWork SA Executive Director Martyn Campbell said that Mr Rowe’s sentence should send a clear message to all businesses that the bullying of any worker will not be tolerated.
“The health and safety of young workers is critical. This includes protecting them from psychological harm as well as physical harm,” Mr Campbell said.
“The behaviour of this supervisor was atrocious. In his supervisory role, there is an expectation he would immediately put a stop to this type of harmful action and certainly not engage in it himself.
“This case reinforces the importance of having a process in place to ensure bullying does not occur in the workplace. This should include the training of workers in how to manage any instances of bullying and reassurances that reporting such behaviour can occur confidentially and without fear of repercussions.
“I hope this sentence serves as a warning to all people in leadership positions that SafeWork SA will enforce individual actions where leaders don’t follow their statutory duty of care for workers in their charge”.