Victoria’s building regulator has been charged for allegedly violating workplace health and safety laws over the death of one of its inspectors who took their own life in May last year.
In May 2022, Rob Karkut, who had been an inspector at the Victorian Building Authority for 16 years, took his own life.
According to media reports, Karkut and building and plumbing inspectors had been placed under sustained pressure to meet ambitious inspection targets which involved inspecting around 60 to 65 building sites each month for compliance with building regulations – approximately three sites per working day.
Those who failed to meet those targets reportedly came under sustained management pressure.
In a statement, WorkSafe Victoria said the organisation was facing two charges under Victoria’s Occupational Health and Safety Act.
- One charge under section 32 of the Act for for recklessly engaging in conduct that placed another person at a workplace in danger of serious injury.; and
- A second charge under section 21(1) of the OHS Act for failing to provide or maintain a workplace that was safe and without risks to health.
In relation to the first charge, WorkSafe alleges the regulator refused to transfer the inspector to a different supervisor and continued to pursue performance and redundancy processes while aware that this conduct may have placed the inspector at risk of psychological injury.
In relation to the second, it is alleged the regulator breached section 21(2)(a) of the OHS Act by failing to provide and maintain an adequate system of work to reduce the risk of workplace related stress and psychological injury, including anxiety and depression.
The charges come at a difficult time for the VBA.
The matter is listed for a filing hearing at Melbourne Magistrates’ Court on 26 October 2023.
According to The Age, five board members, including the chief commissioner, did not have their terms renewed when they expired last weekend (refer article link above).
As part of a review of the VBA and the mental health dangers which are posed to its inspectors, former Fair Work Commission deputy president Greg Smith has found that a ‘culture of conflict’ was present at the regulator.
Anna Cronin, former commissioner for better regulation, was appointed new CEO in May and has been tasked with improving the regulator’s culture and performance.
A VBA Spokesman told Sourceable that the regulator was taking the situation seriously.
“We are treating this matter with the utmost seriousness and cooperating fully,” the spokesperson said.
“The welfare of our staff is paramount and we’re continuing to improve the way we work to support and empower our people.
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