On 14 June 2024, Narellan Pools Pty Ltd (“the defendant”) was convicted and fined $1.5 million after pleading guilty to Industrial Manslaughter in the District Court at Brisbane.

The charge stems from a tragic incident on 19 August 2021, when a 42-year-old worker (“the deceased”), was killed at the worksite of the defendant in Stapylton, when he was struck by a mobile crane.

The defendant manufactures, distributes and sells inground fibreglass swimming pools. As part of its operations, it owned and operated a Franna 12 tonne mobile crane that was used to move pools during different parts of the manufacture process, and when ready to be delivered. The deceased was the yard foreman hired by the defendant at its Stapylton worksite. He had been employed by the defendant for around three years. His role included that he would act as the dogger when the defendant was moving pools on the crane. The defendant also employed a facility manager, and a mobile crane operator. The crane operator was experienced, having worked for the defendant in this role for over 5 years. However, he also had a history of driving the crane at speed, resulting in being warned on several occasions by colleagues to slow down. Three months before the incident, he hit a parked car with the crane, and on the day of the incident, he was challenged about driving the crane too fast. His manner of driving had previously been raised with the facility manager.

On 19 August 2021 at around 12pm, the deceased was acting as a dogger while the crane operator used the crane to move pools around the facility. He reversed the mobile crane, slinging a 650kg fibreglass pool. The deceased, holding the tether line, walked alongside it, to the left of the crane. The crane operator drove forward and the deceased walked in front, between the crane and the suspended pool, standing approximately half a metre between the load and the front corner of the crane. However, after around 15 seconds, the distance between the crane operator and the deceased closed, and the deceased was struck by the crane and knocked to the ground. The crane operator continued driving over the top of the deceased, then, after feeling a bump and not being able to see the deceased, reversed. A colleague ran out to help, and another worker came to render first aid. Paramedics were called and promptly started CPR, but the deceased was declared deceased after approximately 20 minutes.

The subsequent workplace investigation revealed that the defendant did not have a traffic management system, did not have a safe work method statement or documented safe operating procedure for the operation of the crane, did not have procedure in place for exclusion zones and did not provide training on dogger or rigging duties. Spotters were also not used, and there was no system of communication between the dogger and crane operator. It also revealed that the facility manager was aware of the practice of doggers walking in front of the crane.

In sentencing, Everson DCJ took into account the defendant’s early plea of guilty, however noted that the defendant has pleaded guilty to the most serious offence under the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 (Qld). His Honour remarked that, although the defendant had mechanisms for work health and safety compliance, as would be expected of a corporation employing a significant number of employees and operating this type of business, and it further engaged consultancy firms to identify work health and safety risks, at no time in respect of any of its sites were the risks leading to this tragic accident identified. His Honour found that this was a serious oversight for which the defendant is responsible, and for which it has acknowledged by its plea, reiterating that as a corporation which carries on a manufacturing business employing 126 staff across Australia, the oversight remains both glaring and surprising when looked at with the benefit of hindsight, particularly when coupled with the tragic consequences and that the crane operator was clearly operating a crane in a dangerous manner well before the incident and steps had not been taken by employees of the defendant who had a responsibility to prevent this continuing.

In mitigation, Everson DCJ found the response of the defendant post-incident was appropriate (including by making an ex-gratia payment to the family of the deceased and creating a memorial at the incident site), and accepted that the defendant has no prior convictions and is otherwise a good corporate citizen with an excellent record of giving products and money to worthy charities.

His Honour noted that there is only one directly comparable decision in Queensland where a corporation has been sentenced for industrial manslaughter – that of R v Brisbane Auto Recycling & Ors [2020] QDC 113. Ultimately, his Honour noted that the circumstances of that decision were much more serious, despite both arising out of the tragic death of a worker who was crushed by a mobile lifting device. However, in that case, Rafter SC DCJ, in imposing a fine of $3 million, observed that the defendant had no safety systems in place at all, the forklift driver was unlicenced and the directors were also convicted in circumstances where they attempted to cover up the incident and were not candid about what occurred. His Honour found that the operations of the defendant were vastly different from that in Brisbane Auto, but in circumstances where the breach of its obligations were flagrant, a substantial fine is still warranted, particularly given considerations of general deterrence, even allowing for the considerable mitigating factors.

Accordingly, the defendant was convicted and fined $1.5 million, and a conviction was recorded.

OWHSP contact: enquiries@owhsp.qld.gov.au

Court Report

Date of offence
Brisbane District Court
Magistrate or judge
Everson DCJ
Decision date

Section 34C(1) of the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 (Qld)

$1.5 million
Maximum fine available
$10 million
Professional and legal costs
Court costs
In default period
Time to pay
30 days
Conviction recorded