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January 2020

$400,000 penalty for overdose

$400,000 penalty for overdose

Victorian WorkCover Authority v Ambulance Victoria (2018)

Facts

Ambulance Victoria paramedics are regularly required to administer the drugs morphine and fentanyl for pain relief. Ambulance Victoria had a system of work in place for the disposal of leftover pain relief drugs where the administering paramedic was to empty the remaining doses of morphine and fentanyl onto the ground and then make a record of having done so with a second paramedic or volunteer officer providing a record of witness.

On 20 January 2015, paramedic Clive Hawkers was found dead at the Heywood ambulance station. He had died of toxicity due to an overdose of morphine and fentanyl. Ambulance Victoria pleaded guilty to two charges of breaching their duties under the Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004 (Vic).

Judgment

In her decision, the Warrnambool Magistrate Cynthia Toose considered the check system in place for the storing and disposal of painkillers to be inadequate. Ambulance Victoria was found guilty of both charges and fined $400,000.

Following the judgment, Ambulance Victoria implemented a new system of work that includes random drug testing of employees, tamper proof packaging of drugs, more security cameras, and a new audit process.

Lessons

This case highlights the importance of workplace practices that incorporate a supervision/witness system. This is particularly pertinent in environments in which workers are exposed to dangerous substances that have great potential for misuse.

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