The defendant held duties under s.28 of the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 being a worker employed in a veterinary practice on the Gold Coast.
The defendant was a qualified veterinarian employed by the Gold Coast practice. From 3 to 6 July 2013 he attended a horse at a property in the Gold Coast hinterland. He administered treatment to the horse and took exclusionary samples from it to test for Hendra virus ('HeV'). HeV is a zoonotic disease which, if acquired by humans, has a high mortality rate.
The defendant requested assistance from the horse owner to take the samples and did not follow the published best practice infection control procedures for dealing with a suspected HeV infected horse. The procedures included personal protective equipment (PPE) to be worn by persons in proximity to the suspected infected horse. The defendant did not provide the appropriate level of PPE to the horse owner. The procedures also included entry and exit pathways to be established to permit adequate decontamination. These pathways were not put in place and the horse owner was exposed to the risk of HeV infection.
The horse tested positive to HeV and was subsequently euthanised.
The defendant pleaded guilty in the Southport Magistrates Court on 29 March 2016 to breaching s.32 of the Work Health and Safety Act 2011, having failed to meet his work health and safety duties and was sentenced.
Magistrate Joan White made an order under section 19 of the Penalties and Sentences Act 1992 that the defendant be of good behavior for a period of two years with a recognisance in the sum of $3000, to be forfeited if convicted of an offence within this period. No conviction was recorded.
The magistrate noted the defendant was a young and relatively inexperienced veterinarian, that he had taken the exclusionary sample out of an abundance of caution upon being advised of the horse's (non)vaccination status to the disease. The magistrate stated that upon deciding he would take that sample he should have adopted the full PPE requirements and this was not done. Magistrate White noted that both he and the horse owner were later tested and found to be negative to HeV infection. The magistrate observed there was a high level of compliance with the Act and this was not a case where the defendant had done nothing.
In deciding penalty, Magistrate White took into account the defendant had not been prosecuted previously for any work health and safety breach, the professional references tendered on the defendant's behalf and the defendant entered a timely plea of guilty.
Considerations for prevention
(commentary under this heading is not part of the court's decision)
After significant consultation with all stakeholders, guidelines for treatment of horses suspected of HeV infection were developed.
People involved across all aspects of equine industries, in particular veterinarians, need to be patently aware of the significant repercussions of zoonosis diseases, HeV being most prominent due to its high mortality rate and debilitating effects on human beings.
- Professional, scientific and technical services
- Date of offence:
- Southport Magistrates Court
- Ms Joan White
- s.32 of the duty under s.28 of the Work Health and Safety Act 2011
- Decision date:
- Good behavior bond under s.19 of the Penalties and Sentences Act 1992 for a period of 2 years with a recognisance of $3000
- Maximum Penalty:
- Conviction recorded:
- CIS event number: