POVB bulletin: OTAB WHS fire hazard dispute - Public Service Association

POVB bulletin: OTAB WHS fire hazard dispute

Following a cell fire at Silverwater Women’s Correctional Centre (SWCC) on Friday 24 May, where an inmate damaged an in-cell offender tablet (OTAB), causing the lithium-ion battery to ignite, the SWCC POVB sub-branch moved two motions whereby they have ceased issuing tablets to inmates. The sub-branch has taken this action under Section 84 of the Work Health Safety Act – cease unsafe work.

Their primary concerns are the following:

  • Are the fire extinguishers provided by CSNSW adequate and appropriate to extinguish a lithium-ion battery fire?
  • Will the smoke hoods provided by CSNSW, adequately and safely eliminate the risk to inhaling toxic smoke caused by a lithium-ion battery fire?
  • Will deploying CS Gas cause a chemical reaction if deployed in the vicinity of a lithium-ion battery fire?
  • Is the storage and charging of OTAB being done safely throughout CSNSW?
  • Is adequate training currently being provided to staff in these types of fires?
  • Have all necessary risk assessments been conducted?

In consultation Corrective Services NSW (CSNSW) has assured the POVB it has safely implemented OTAB WHS fire safety protocols, risk assessments and training to Australian standards.

The POVB has received conflicting information from SafeWork NSW, NSW Fire & Rescue and the State Secretary of the NSW Fire Brigade Employees Union and has supported SWCC POVB sub-branch in its motions to ensure safety for members.

Due to SWCC ceasing unsafe work, CSNSW lodged the matter in the Industrial Relations Commission. Today we were before Chief Commissioner Constant for a compulsory conference. The POVB was represented by Jason Charlton, with PSA President Nicole Jess, PSA Industrial Manager Nathan Bradshaw and SWCC POVB Delegates Emma Firth and Hayden Alchin assisting.

CSNSW raised it is satisfied that the WHS and fire safety protocols are to Australian standards and there was a higher risk to safety by not issuing OTAB to inmates. CSNSW was seeking that the Chief Commissioner make orders for the POVB to recommence issuing OTAB to inmates.

The POVB requested that SafeWork NSW report to the parties and Commission that WHS and fire safety standards have been met by CSNSW to provide the safest working environment to Correctional staff and inmates, before recommencing the issuing of OTAB to inmates at SWCC.

Chief Commissioner Constant made recommendations that SafeWork NSW is to investigate the fire at SWCC on 24 May and to submit a report to the parties by close of business on Friday 31 May. The parties are to meet on Monday 3 June 2024 and discuss the outcome of the SafeWork NSW investigation.

It was suggested that the outcome will be in two steps. Firstly, an investigation into this incident to determine if SWCC can safely return to issuing OTAB to inmates next week. The second step is there will be a more thorough investigation involving Safe Work NSW to provide a final outcome that may take weeks to complete.

The matter is listed to continue on Wednesday 5 June before Chief Commissioner Constant.

The POVB State Executive and SWCC sub-branch thank all POVB Members for their motions of support. We are not seeking that any further immediate action to be taken under Section 84 of the WHS Act, however if you feel an imminent risk to WHS does present, please raise the issue to management and Health & Safety Reps (HSRs) at your workplace.

We will keep you updated as this matter progresses.



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