Record $900,000 fine for Department of Justice over dog attack

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The State of Western Australia (Department of Justice) has been fined $900,000 (and ordered to pay $6404 in costs) after an employee was seriously injured when attacked by a dog that was intended to respond to critical incidents.

Department of Justice pleaded guilty to failing to provide and maintain a safe work environment and, by that failure, causing serious harm to an employee, and was fined in the Armadale Magistrates Court yesterday.

The fine is the highest penalty ever imposed for a breach of workplace safety and health laws in WA. It is the third time the Department of Justice has been convicted of breaches of these laws.

At Hakea Prison in December 2018, a Drug Detection Officer (DDO) in the Drug Detection Unit was attempting to move one of two new dogs from his kennel to the day run, routine dog handling work.

The kennel door opened outwards toward the dog handler, and he opened it to about 15cm wide to allow a choker collar to be fitted to the dog. He had his foot against the bottom of the door and the choker collar ready for the dog to put its head through.

The dog suddenly latched onto the officer’s right forearm with its mouth and dragged him into the kennel, standing on its back legs and ignoring his “no” command, which was given 10 to 15 times.

The dog then latched onto the officer’s left wrist, inflicting serious damage, until he managed to get out of the kennel and lock the door.

He suffered a fractured left arm and lacerations to both arms requiring more than 120 stitches. His left arm needed specialist treatment and required the insertion of screws and wires, and he required considerable ongoing treatment including four surgeries.

WorkSafe WA Commissioner Darren Kavanagh said today the Department of Justice had not assessed the risks involved in handling the type of dog involved in this incident.

“This was an aggressive animal that was intended to be trained in tactical support, use of force and riot control and the Department did not ensure the safety of employees required to work with these dogs,” Mr Kavanagh said.

“This dog and another had been transported to WA from Victoria, but no Departmental representative had assessed them in person prior to purchasing them and, even worse, kennel modifications that the Department knew were required did not occur before the dogs arrived.

“The victim of this incident, a handler with a 30 year career, had observed the new dogs fighting with each other, pacing inside their cages and disobeying commands and had reported his concerns to the two co-ordinators of the DDU.

“The subject matter expert at the Drug Detection Unit had raised several concerns about the dogs and the kennels but these concerns were not acted upon by management and a single handler was instructed to exercise and socialise the two new dogs on his own.

“From this it’s evident that no risk assessment was done when the Drug Detection Unit added two partly-trained and aggressive dogs to the workplace without providing appropriate training for the handlers or appropriate kennels to house the dogs.

“This resulted in serious injuries and ongoing medical issues for one of their employees that could have been avoided if the Department had acted on the concerns he had raised.

“This is the third time the Department of Justice has been convicted of breaches of workplace safety and health laws, and this is reflected in the level of the penalty imposed.

“WorkSafe recognises the impact serious harm can have on workers, and thoroughly investigates serious injuries suffered as the result of workplace incidents.”

In his sentencing, Magistrate Mahon acknowledged the terrible injuries suffered by the officer and thanked him for the work he had done over 30 years as a diligent prison officer who took pride in his career.

He said there had been significant and fundamental failings and glaring errors by the Department and that a risk assessment may have stopped the systemic failures that led to this offence.

Media Contact: Caroline De Vaney, 6251 2363 or 0408 927563 (media enquiries only)

Follow @WorkSafeWA on Twitter

Media release
24 Mar 2022

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