When claims of abuse in care come to light, strong emotions can arise for all concerned. It is not surprising that when an unexplained injury is uncovered, family members, care staff, and employers will want immediate answers.
However, it is vital that employers maintain clear thinking and remain objective when investigating allegations of abuse in care.
Engaging an external workplace investigator can be helpful in maintaining neutrality, and conducting a detailed, unbiased investigation. Medical evidence is also highly relevant in these situations as it is collected in a scientific manner, without bias towards a particular party.
In emotionally charged situations, family and friends may understandably demand immediate answers about the cause of a loved one's unexplained injury. When abuse appears to have occurred against a vulnerable individual, it is a disturbing thought for all involved.
Workplace investigators understand that despite - or perhaps because of - such high emotions, the investigation must be coordinated and managed with an extremely steady hand.
An experienced investigator will be acutely aware of the rules of evidence and how important the accurate collection and management of the evidence will become, should the matter be taken on review. Accordingly, from the very start of an investigation, it is understood that all information, statements, workplace documents, interviews and clinical data is to be gathered with a view to fairness, objectivity and clarity.
Family members of the vulnerable person affected by the unexplained injury may not be aware of the detail of the circumstances of the injury.
Factors such as the site of an unexplained injury, medical history and medications, client age, frailty and demographics, unique aspects of accommodation and access, care routines, staffing variables and medical documentation - to name a few - will all form part of the complex medical evidence matrix when evidence is being assessed.
Delays in getting the victim medically examined or a delay in reporting incidents can often mean that the medical expert may need to rely on descriptions provided by witnesses or photographs taken of the injury. This will significantly diminish the quality of the medical evidence. Poor quality photographs and descriptions will make it even more difficult to obtain any reliable medical evidence.
The standard of proof in investigations such as these is on the balance of probabilities. The case of Briginshaw v Briginshaw (1938) 60 CLR 336 is generally regarded as authority for the idea that on the balance of probabilities, if a finding is likely to produce grave consequences, the evidence should be of high probative value.
In cases of alleged assaults in care, professional investigators will ensure that all evidence - medical and general - is collected and reported on with utmost care. This approach ensures that irrelevant factors are not given weight.
When the medical evidence is combined with overall procedural fairness across the investigation, the resulting investigative report into an alleged assault will be of high quality and robust in terms of the weighing of the evidence and findings.
When investigating abuse in care, the standard of evidence obtained is a crucial factor. By including sound medical evidence, the investigator brings an unbiased and highly detailed viewpoint to the allegations of assault. This expertise can mean the difference between a fair and objective investigative report and one that is tinged by the emotionally charged nature of the situation.
Should the matter be taken on review, the court will apply the 'reasonable person test' to the facts and evidence available. If the investigation is not fair, clear and comprehensive, then the court may find the resulting report does not meet this standard.
If your organisation requires a workplace investigation into an unexplained injury, our team can assist with either full or supported investigation services. WISE are highly experienced in the complexities of investigating unexplained injuries in care settings, including the assessment of medical evidence.
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