Austin Health pleaded guilty and was sentenced in the Heidelberg Magistrates’ Court last month to failing to provide or maintain a safe working environment.
Austin Health was fined without conviction following the October 2017 assault of the psychiatric care nurse working at the hospital’s Secure Extended Care Unit Ward in Heidelberg.
The nurse required hospital treatment after being struck to the head, face and body with a motorbike battery inside a bag and has not returned to work as a psychiatric care nurse.
The court heard the nurse entered the foyer at the ward when the patient, who had been seated in the foyer, attacked him.
Entry to the foyer requires a key pass that only staff can access and patients and visitors press a bell at the door to notify a nurse to open the door for them.
The court heard the patient had treatment-resistant schizophrenia and a history of physical violence. A trigger sign that the patient was becoming unwell was that he would fixate on a person, often a nurse, believing they were trying to kill him.
In the days leading up to the assault, the patient’s daughter contacted the ward multiple times to warn that her father was showing signs of mental deterioration and was under the delusion that the nurse was trying to kill him. This was recorded in the patient’s inpatient notes.
The court heard that Austin Health failed to alert the nurse to the risk of physical violence he faced, or provide him with the option to leave work or be redeployed until the risk no longer presented, in accordance with the hospital’s own policies and procedures.
WorkSafe Executive Director of Health and Safety Julie Nielsen said it was up to employers to keep their staff safe at work.
“Experiencing violence and aggression should never be ‘just a part of the job’ for any healthcare worker, even when it’s committed by people whose clinical condition may be affecting their judgement,” Ms Nielsen said.
What can employers do about occupational violence?
- Identify violence and aggression hazards in the workplace and assess the risks.
- Consult with employees to implement controls to eliminate or reduce the risks.
- Promote a culture that does not accept violence and aggression.
- Develop and implement health and safety policies and initiatives focused on occupational violence and aggression.
- Encourage reporting and act on these reports. Investigate incidents and review existing controls.
- Support staff development in de-escalation and processes for early intervention and management.
- Allocate resources to prevention and management.
- Support employees who have been exposed to occupational violence and aggression in the workplace.