“It is not enough for a business to just have a ‘no bullying’ policy,” SafeWork SA Executive Director Martyn Campbell has warned employers.
His comment comes in the wake a second bully’s conviction for a Category 1 breach under the South Australian Work Health and Safety Act 2012.
Twenty-eight-year-old Luke Chenoweth was one of two supervisors at Tad-Mar Electrical who took part in a lunchtime ‘workplace prank’, where they squirted an 18-year-old apprentice with lighter fuel and set him alight.
The other supervisor, Jeffrey Mark Rowe, was also prosecuted and fined earlier this year for his involvement in the incident.
Mr Chenoweth pleaded guilty to exposing the worker to a risk of death or serious injury. He was fined $21,000 after receiving a 40 per cent discount for an early guilty plea.
The reckless conduct offence carries a maximum penalty of $300,000 or five years’ jail.
Bully blames poor workplace culture
In the South Australian Employment Tribunal (SAET) hearing, Mr Chenoweth provided a report from a psychologist that stated Mr Chenoweth had been a victim of bullying himself at the company and that he “engaged in the conduct in part to protect himself from continuing to be bullied, in that if he engaged in similar conduct the focus was likely to be on someone else”.
While SAET Deputy President Magistrate Stuart Cole accepted that Mr Chenoweth was “remorseful and contrite” and “had engaged in a ‘serious act of gross stupidity’ in the context of a poor work culture”, the Deputy President Magistrate found that Mr Chenoweth was the main protagonist in the “serious and unprovoked” incident.
“In the course of doing that he chased [the apprentice], who was trying to get away from what must have been a frightening situation, and who was an apprentice with little if any control or influence over the defendant as a supervisor,” Deputy President Magistrate Cole said.
“The potential for serious injury as a result of [Mr Chenoweth’s] conduct was very real.”
Apprentice suffered unbridled bullying at work
Deputy President Magistrate Cole heard that the apprentice had been bullied by Mr Chenoweth since August 2016.
“[W]hilst the defendant is to be sentenced only for the charges brought against him, there was a history of bullying behaviour by [Mr Chenoweth] in relation to [the apprentice], and the conduct the subject of the charge cannot be treated as an exceptional one-off event,” Deputy President Magistrate Cole said.
After the hearing, SafeWork SA Executive Director Martyn Campbell said that the apprentice had been verbally abused, had his tools hidden and was locked in containers when working at Tad-Mar Electrical.
Employers must ‘live and breathe’ anti-bullying policies
“Supervisors and other leaders have a responsibility to look after young workers, not physically abuse them in the name of fun or high jinks,” Mr Campbell said.
“It is not enough for a business to just have a ‘No Bullying’ policy.
“Executives, managers and supervisors must live and breathe that policy to ensure it is ingrained in the fabric of organisational culture. Each has a duty to look after the health and safety of all workers and especially young workers new to the workforce.
“I would encourage every business to look at their own processes for how they manage bullying. If they fall short of the standard then they need to ask for assistance to make sure they are legally compliant and doing what is required to ensure worker health and safety.”
Tad-Mar Electrical has also been charged over the incident and will face court in October.