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Security firms provided PPE while working Victoria’s hotel quarantine

Security firms hired to work in Victoria’s hotel quarantine system were required to provide their own staff with protective equipment, a court has been told.

A five-week committal hearing is underway for Magistrate Simon Zebrowski to determine if there’s sufficient evidence to support a conviction on the charges.

Ninety per cent of cases in Victoria’s deadly second wave were traced back to people who caught COVID-19 at Rydges. (Getty)

Protective equipment guidelines were given to Wilson Security, MSS Security and Unified Security up to eight weeks after guards were already working in the quarantine hotels, WorkSafe barrister Daniel Gurvich KC told the Melbourne Magistrates Court.

Up until that point, it was left to the security companies to implement their own procedures with staff, Gurvich said on Monday.

The security firms also had to provide their own protective equipment to guards, former MSS risk adviser Charles Hooper told the court.

MSS guards acting as supervisors would contact Hooper if they were running low on masks, gloves and other equipment and he would then personally deliver the items.

Wilson Security general manager Gregory Watson told the court the requirement to provide equipment was a “matter of conjecture” during contract negotiations between his company and the department.

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Masks and gloves were already in short supply at the time so Wilson was left to “scurry around” and source equipment from overseas, Watson said in his evidence on Monday.

The role of the guards also shifted throughout the hotel quarantine program, from observing at a distance to more hands-on tasks, the court was told.

Guards were made to accompany quarantined travellers on fresh air walks and one guard was threatened with a $20,000 fine when they questioned the changes, Watson said.

A federal government-led online module about protective equipment, social distancing and other COVID-safe measures was the only formal training guards received before starting work, the court was told.

WorkSafe alleges the Department of Health failed to provide security guards with face-to-face, expert infection prevention control training and written instructions on how to use personal protective equipment.

It also alleges the department breached occupational health and safety laws by failing to appoint people with infection prevention and control expertise at the hotels it was using.

The department was responsible between March and July 2020 for the state’s first hotel quarantine program.

The court was told 90 per cent of cases in the state’s deadly second wave were traced back to six guards, a healthcare worker and an employee who contracted the virus at the Rydges hotel from May 25, 2020.

Another 10 per cent of cases were traced back to 26 guards and a department employee based at the Stamford from June 16.

The second wave resulted in more than 18,000 new infections, 800 deaths and a lockdown that lasted 112 days.

If found guilty of the WorkSafe charges, the department faces a possible total fine of more than $95 million.

The committal hearing continues on Tuesday.

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