Victoria’s Department of Education and Training has been fined $200,000, with a conviction, for safety breaches at a school where a seven-year-old boy suffered a fatal head injury, in lapses a judge said were “absolutely fraught with danger”.
Jovan Talwar hit his head on the ground when his wheelchair rolled down a shoddy ramp at Warringa Park School in Hoppers Crossing on November 26, 2018. He was checked by the school’s nurse and stayed for the rest of the day – with his parents’ approval – but his condition deteriorated over following days, and he died in hospital.
Warringa Park School in Hoppers Crossing.Credit:Luis Enrique Ascui
Jovan and other children were outside a classroom and at the top of a ramp with a student teacher while the class teacher and a teacher’s aide were inside with a misbehaving child. Amid the confusion, a girl holding the wheelchair inadvertently let go and it rolled down at speed, the County Court heard.
The department pleaded guilty to two charges of failing to ensure, as far as was reasonably practicable, that people other than employees were not exposed to risks to their health or safety.
The end of the ramp wasn’t flush with the concrete underneath and in its guilty plea, the department admitted failing to maintain the ramp or have it assessed over the decade before Jovan’s death. It also failed to properly instruct and train staff over the supervision Jovan needed.
Three years to the day after Jovan’s fall, Judge Richard Maidment said the dangers the ramp posed and the lapse in supervision contributed to Jovan’s death.
“For a situation to be permitted … of a student with Jovan’s disabilities negotiating the ramp without being supervised, without a responsible adult holding the wheelchair throughout the negotiation of the ramp, was absolutely fraught with danger,” he said on Friday.
“It was an obvious risk of at least serious injury, if not death.”
The judge said the student teacher and other staff were blameless for what happened but it was “reasonably foreseeable” for the department to have known incidents such as Jovan’s fall could happen if staff training and poor infrastructure were not addressed.
The student teacher told WorkSafe investigators she never received special induction training. Warringa Park is a school for students with disabilities.
“The lack of training of those who were the adults present on the day, and the student teacher in particular, was undoubtedly a significant contributor to the death that occurred,” Judge Maidment said.
The department this year failed to keep the case before a magistrate, who is limited in the size of the fines they can impose. The maximum fines Judge Maidment could have imposed were $1.45 million for each charge.
He acknowledged the department’s remorse and plea of guilty, that it had better trained staff since Jovan’s death, and replaced shoddy ramps at Warringa Park and other schools.
The department had five previous court appearances for safety breaches but this was its first since 2011.
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