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First Industrial Manslaughter Conviction in Australia
The District Court of Queensland recently imposed an industrial manslaughter conviction upon Brisbane Auto Recycling Pty Ltd (“BAR”) and imposed a $3 million penalty on the company. Directors were handed a suspended jail term for their implication in a worker’s death. This is the first company convicted of industrial manslaughter arising from a WHS fatality matter.
The two Directors were convicted under the Work Health and Safety Act 2011(the “WHS Act”) of Category 1 offences and sentenced to ten months’ imprisonment, wholly suspended for an operational period of 20 months.
The fatality took place at the auto wrecking business conducted by BAR on 17 May 2019 when a casual employee was struck by a forklift. The worker subsequently died from his injuries eight days later.
BAR had no safety systems in place, and both directors accepted that they knew of the risk to the safety of their workers, but consciously disregarded that risk. The conduct of the directors in not taking steps to ensure the risk to workers was controlled and amounted to recklessness. This contributed to the industrial manslaughter conviction.
The Directors were convicted under the WHS Act. The Category 1 offences only applies if the person, without reasonable excuse, engages in conduct that exposes an individual to the risk of death or serious injury or illness. The offence attracts maximum penalties of five years’ imprisonment or a fine of up to $300,000 for a first offence.
BAR pleaded guilty to a charge of having negligently caused the death of a worker. The charge was that BAR caused the death of its worker by failing to separate pedestrians effectively from the mobile plant, and failing to supervise workers effectively, including the operators of the mobile plant. In its defence, BAR stated that it had no prior convictions and that any fine imposed would place it in liquidation.
Even though the Directors were convicted under the WHS Act and sentenced to ten months’ imprisonment, the Judge elected to suspend the imprisonment terms after considering the Directors’ cooperation during the investigation, their guilty plea, clean records and personal circumstances. As Hazar refugees from Afghanistan, the Directors risked deportation if their sentences were one year or more.
It is indeed significant that an industrial manslaughter conviction has been imposed and we urge companies to contact PCS on (02) 8094 3100 in the event of any workplace incident occurring.