Victorian WorkCover Authority investigating Essendon over supplements program

With the prospect of ASADA action against its players looming, the news has got even worse for Essendon, with the Victorian WorkCover Authority launching an investigation into the club’s 2012 supplements program.

Fairfax Media has confirmed the authority recently began its investigation into Essendon’s workplace health and safety practices after receiving a request from an external body.

Under Essendon’s supplements programs, players received injections of a range of substances not yet approved for human use in Australia or only permissible with a prescription.

The club has been unable to tell players, the AFL or ASADA exactly what all the substances were that were given to players under the program run by its former sports science chief Stephen Dank and former fitness boss Dean Robinson.

In a statement to Fairfax Media, a VWA spokesman said: “The VWA has been monitoring the progress of the ASADA investigation into allegations surrounding the Essendon Football Club. The VWA recently received a request under section 131 of the OHS Act 2004 to investigate alleged risks to health and safety at the club. The VWA is required to investigate and determine if further action should be taken. As this is a current investigation, the VWA is unable to comment further.”

It is not known whether the request to the VWA was made by the AFL, ASADA or some other organisation or individual.

The authority is understood to have resisted launching an investigation into the supplements scandal because of on-going ASADA and AFL investigations.

Punishments handed out already by the AFL that led to the suspension of coach James Hird and football boss Danny Corcoran are believed by senior VWA figures to be already harsher than what might be received in any successful prosecution of the club or individuals for OHS breaches.

Section 131 of the OHS Act applies to when a person requests in writing that the VWA bring a prosecution if the authority has not taken action against an employer within six months of alleged breaches occurring.

The section requires the authority to investigate the alleged workplace safety breaches and respond in writing to the complainant to advise whether the matter will be prosecuted. If it is not to be prosecuted, then the VWA must give reasons as to why.

The VWA also must refer the matter to the Director of Public Prosecutions if it decides not to prosecute and is requested in writing by a complainant to do so.

ASADA has been investigating Essendon since February 2013 after the club reported its supplements program to the AFL and the anti-doping agency.

Fairfax Media reported on Monday that ASADA was preparing to lodge as many as 40 show-cause notices to Essendon players. The notices would invite players to show cause as to why they should not receive infraction notices for breaches of anti-doping rules.

Peptide Thymosin beta 4 has emerged as the substance most likely to lead to any playing bans at Essendon, with ASADA understood to have mounted a strong case that at least 11 players have received the banned substance.

The club has steadfastly rejected claims Thymosin beta 4 was given to players, despite strong circumstantial evidence, including an admission by Mr Dank to Fairfax Media in April last year, that it was.

The club has maintained a different form of thymosin that is not banned by the World Anti-Doping Agency was given.

Captain Jobe Watson on Wednesday said players were keen for ASADA to conclude its investigation in order to get closure on a saga that has dogged them for more than 12 months.

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