Prosecution after apprentice burnt in workplace prank

An apprentice who set fire to a new workmate in a workplace ‘prank’ has been prosecuted by WorkSafe Victoria.

An apprentice who set fire to a new workmate in a workplace ‘prank’ has been prosecuted by WorkSafe Victoria.

Matthew Lever, 23, was the third apprentice to be prosecuted after a January 2008 incident where three apprentice mechanics ignited brake-cleaning fluid which they sprayed on another apprentice.

The injured apprentice had been working at a Hallam workshop for just three days when the incident occurred, and spent a week in hospital with burn injuries.

The Ringwood Magistrates’ court has convicted Lever on three charges under the Occupational Health and Safety Act and fined him $5,000. The two other apprentices were convicted on health and safety charges in December 2008, and also fined $5,000 each.

WorkSafe is currently investigating a similar incident which occurred in Dandenong in March, where two apprentice mechanics suffered burn injuries after allegedly igniting brake fluid.

“This sort of behaviour might be called horseplay or excused as a prank – but can lead to serious, permanent injuries. It’s against the law and it’s not acceptable,” WorkSafe’s strategic programs director Trevor Martin said.

“We know that young workers, including apprentices, are less likely to speak up about bullying behaviour at work or pranks that go too far.

“We want young workers to know that just because their mate’s the one carrying out the prank, it doesn’t make it ok.”

WorkSafe has a specific program of work targeting 15-24 year olds in the workplace. This includes making sure workplaces have transparent policies in place for bullying, harassment; and that young people recognise it’s not acceptable and that they can seek help.

“In this case, the company had done the right thing – they’d spelt out their expectation that bullying and pranks would not be tolerated, and disciplined all three apprentices on a previous occasion,” Martin said.

“Our message for other companies employing young workers is clear – the company’s rules around this kind of behaviour need to be clearly communicated, and young workers need to be supervised.

“The injured apprentice had been working for the company for only three days. WorkSafe knows that new workers are more vulnerable – they’re more likely than other workers to get severe injuries and be hospitalised. That’s why they need even more supervision at this time.

“You don’t go to work to muck around with dangerous substances – situations like this can escalate and eventually someone will get hurt.”

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