The South Australian Industrial Relations Court has handed down its judgment in Russell v Royals [2013] SAIRC 34 (22 August 2013), in which a disability services worker was fined $6,300 (after a 30% discount for early guilty plea and other relevant matters) and a criminal conviction recorded for significantly departing from what was required of her in her position as a carer, resulting in a client (a resident of the Department for Family and Communities) receiving serious burns to her body from scalding hot bath water.

In that case, the worker was aware that the client had intellectual and physical disabilities, limited communication skills and required close supervision during bathing (she was at risk of drowning due to her epilepsy).  The worker was also aware of the employer’s specific requirements as to how to run a bath, to supervise the client when she was in the bath, and to not permit her to get into the bath until the water temperature had been adjusted.  Despite this, the worker failed to check the temperature of the bathwater, and left the client unsupervised for approximately 15 minutes.  As a result, the client suffered burns to 37% of her body, had to undergo a number of operations, and had uncontrollable seizures for some time after the incident.

The Court found that the worker was engaged in a position of trust in that her role was to care for clients who required ongoing support due to intellectual and physical disabilities.  The worker had breached the now repealed Occupational Health, Safety and Welfare Act 1986 (SA) because she completely failed in a very basic task of checking the temperature of bathwater that she had prepared for the client, and her actions at the time of the incident must be regarded as a serious departure from what was required of her in her position as a carer.