27th May 2007
I decided in early October, 2006, that I would contact the Freedom of Information office, with a view to obtaining more relevant information about the workplace accident in which my husband died, on November 22nd, 1999. I know that nearly 7 years had passed, but it was only then that I felt emotionally ready to be confronted with the 'truth' of what happened.
What I didn't realise was how frustrating this whole business would turn out to be.
My first contact was with the FOI Office, where I was told that I would have the relevant request forms sent out to me, so I could request 'file notes, any written information available, industrial fatality, and any other information available on the investigation of workplace fatality'. I was also told that I should contact my late husband's employer, and request the same information from them. So, I consequently received the request forms, which I mailed back, filled in, by return mail.
I then took myself to the workplace concerned, where I spoke with the Manager, who promised that he would help me in any way he could, but that there was no file left in his office, and that the information may only be available from Head Office. He would contact his superiors, pass on my request and get back to me as soon as he had heard anything.
A few hours later, the phone rang and it was a definite 'NO' from Head Office. They were citing ‘privilege, confidentiality and the Privacy Act' for their refusal.
The first thought that shot through my mind was, 'What are they trying to hide?' What about my rights as next-of-kin, grieving widow, or even just as a person who is trying to get a little bit more 'closure' on the events that devastated my life? Don't I count for anything? Obviously not!
So, all I could do was wait, and hope that the FOI Office could allow me access to everything they could lay their hands on. My dealings with this office have been handled very sympathetically, and I thank all the staff involved for their time and patience.
I had no idea that the information had to be gathered up from several different Government Departments and Agencies. The phone lines ran hot, with many public servants calling me, asking if I was sure that I wanted this information, as it was 'sensitive', and 'graphic'. Yes, I wanted to get to the bottom of the accident, to try and get my head around what had happened to my wonderful, loving husband on that day. So, yes please, I needed everything!
As more information was sent to me, it became obvious that the time limit for release to me would be exceeded. This is because every piece of 3rd party paperwork (as in, statements of witnesses, etc) has to be approved for release to me by the 3rd party. Please be aware that any 3rd party has the right to withhold their approval! And this refusal to release has happened in my case. Eventually, in late December 2006, I received what seemed like a ream of paperwork. It seems like I was given a 'Partial Determination' of what could be handed over to me. This is where the 'legal gobble-de-gook' rears it's ugly little head!
In the 'Schedule of Documents', I was completely baffled by the 'Determination' definitions. 'Partial release', 'Released in Full', 'Transferred to South Australian Police', 'Awaiting Consultation', 'Exempt - Out of Scope', and just plain old 'Out of Scope'. Some of them are self-explanatory, but some others??
I'm still trying to wade my way through it all. I did find out a couple of things that I hadn't known about, such as that I'd been lied to about what had actually happened. It's probably other people trying to spare you the agony you are going through, but it's more hurtful and agonizing finding out later.
I received what I presume to be the final pieces of paperwork just the other day. Consisting of 'graphic' photographs, this information could only be sent to a Medical Practitioner, so, luckily my brother fits that bill, and I picked the folder up from him. There are certain items of information, such as the autopsy report, which need to be sent to medical people, so that they can assess your capacity to absorb the information. A little bit presumptuous, I think, as I'm the best person to know how I'm feeling about the whole state of affairs, but I know that it's probably written in the annals of 'law' somewhere! I do realize that some people would not want to view any 'graphic' material without medical intervention being present. Up to the individual, I reckon. And really, in my situation, there was only 1 photograph which could be termed 'graphic'.
I suppose that I'm still ploughing my way through the pages, but I'm discovering a few little details which are disturbing to me. Like, why on earth did my husband's employers seek legal advice and subsequently withhold an internal report into the accident, from Workplace Services Inspectors? Why did Management and the Board of Directors resolve that company representation at interviews concerning the accident would be someone who was not on the site on the day in question, and in my view, would only be getting his information from others? And, back to my original question, what the hell are they trying to hide?
I know that I can't turn the clock back, as much as I would like to. But, I would really like to get to the basics of exactly what happened that day, and why safeguards were ignored, just so that I can work out why this awful accident happened to my husband.
I will never get complete 'closure', but if I can learn enough to put a little bit more 'closure' on it, my mind will be a little more at peace.
Please be aware, though, that even though I have a few more answers, the whole process has probably left me with more questions, which I know will never be answered. I feel as though, in one way, I have just opened up the proverbial 'can of worms' ... just because of the need I have to get to know exactly what happened. In another way, the 'jigsaw' is slowly falling into place. Hopefully, maybe one day, all the pieces will fit together.