The Fair Work Commission recently found that a worker (Duncan) who ignored a safety alarm during his lunch break was unfairly dismissed, and ordered his reinstatement.
The case arose from an incident in April 2013, where four workers were in the Bluescope Ltd coke plant control room when a gas alarm for a battery in the plant sounded.
A worker checked the battery monitor and turned the alarm off before leaving the control room. The alarm sounded again and another worker turned it off and left the control room.
When the alarm sounded a third time neither of the two workers in the control room, including Duncan who was eating his lunch), responded to the alarm.
Bluescope Steel Ltd told the Commission that the alarm was a critical safety device and that Duncan had breached a “cardinal rule”.
Despite the Commissioner stating “it was beyond his comprehension why Duncan would have his lunch in the control room is he didn’t want his lunch disturbed”, that the investigation and action by Bluescope Ltd was flawed.
The Commissioner found the second worker in the control, who was on duty, should have responded to the alarm, and that it was not Duncan’s responsibility during his lunch break. Therefore Duncan had been unfairly dismissed.
The lesson from this case is that each organisation, particularly those with foreseeable emergency situations, should clearly spell out the role and procedures for staff, including during breaks.