Work Related or Not Work Related? Tragic South Australian Fatality in the Headlines

This update was co-authored by Jonathan O’Connor, Law Graduate

On 23 March 2016, experienced remote area nurse, Ms Gayle Woolford, was working in Fregon, in the APY lands in the Simpson Desert, some 1,275 km and an 18 hour drive from Adelaide. She was “on call” and living in a high security house at the time.

Convicted sex offender Dudley Davey lured her out of the house at about 11:30 pm that night by saying his grandmother was sick and needed medical assistance. Once out of the safety of her house he raped and murdered her.

SafeWork South Australia initially determined that the incident was not work related, but recently reversed its decision admitting that the evidence available should have led it to the conclusion that her death was work related.

Her employer, the Nganampa Health Council, policies covering “on-call” employees that required nurses to make personal risk assessments about whether to leave their high security quarters.

Since this incident they have replaced the personal risk assessment policy with a system to ensure patients do not present to nurses’ houses, and that nurses are never “on call” alone.

In November 2017, the South Australian parliament also passed a private members bill dubbed “Gayle’s Law” covering remote nurse safety, which most importantly, ensured that “on-call” nurses never work alone again (the Health Practitioner Regulation National Law (South Australia) (Remote Area Attendance) Amendment Bill 2017 (SA) which amended the Health Practitioner Regulation National Law (South Australia) Act 2010 (SA)).

At first blush it is difficult to see how this could not have been considered to be a work related death from a WHS perspective. Further it may well be the case that its work relatedness also triggers workers’ compensation and negligence claims.

Mr Woodford has requested an inquest so we must await further developments.

The information published in this paper is of a general nature and should not be construed as legal advice. Whilst we aim to provide timely, relevant and accurate information, the law may change and circumstances may differ. You should not therefore act in reliance on it without first obtaining specific legal advice.