On 11 June 2020, Australia's first conviction and sentence for industrial manslaughter was handed down in the Brisbane District Court. On 3 April 2020, the defendant company, Brisbane Auto Recycling Pty Ltd, entered a plea of guilty to one offence contrary to s 34C of the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 (the 'Act').
The company's two directors also pleaded guilty to breaching s 31 of the Act, holding duties under s 27 of the Act.
The defendant company, Brisbane Auto Recycling Pty Ltd was an auto wrecking business located on Marshall Road in the Brisbane suburb of Rocklea. The company conducted the business of purchasing used motor vehicles for the purpose of resale, recycling and parts.
On 17 May 2019, a forklift driver engaged by Brisbane Auto Recycling Pty Ltd was operating a forklift to reposition cars at the delivery area of the Marshall Road workplace. Whilst the forklift was carrying a partial car body, another forklift approached from the workshop shed carrying a car body on one tine. To allow this forklift to pass, the first forklift operator allowed the car body it was carrying to drop uncontrollably, and the driver then proceeded to reverse the forklift. At the same time, another worker engaged by the defendant was also in the delivery area of the workplace, securing a load onto the tray of a tilt-tray truck. When the forklift driver reversed, the pedestrian worker was crushed between the rear of the forklift and the driver's side of the tilt-tray. The injured worker was taken to the Princess Alexandria Hospital by paramedics. He died on 25 May 2019, from the injuries he sustained.
The investigation into the incident by Workplace Health and Safety Queensland ('WHSQ') and Queensland Police revealed that Brisbane Auto Recycling Pty Ltd had no documented safety systems and that the driver of the forklift was unlicensed.
His Honour Judge Rafter SC found that the conduct of the defendant company in failing to implement control measures that effectively separated mobile plant and pedestrian workers, failing to effectively separate mobile plant and workers, and failing to effectively supervise operators of moving plant and workers caused the death of a worker.
His Honour held that the moral culpability of each defendant was high. Judge Rafter SC found, "The defendants knew of the potential consequences of the risk, which were catastrophic. Steps to lessen, minimize or remove the risk posed by mobile plant were available. Those steps were neither complex nor overly burdensome."
In sentencing the defendant company, His Honour acknowledged the need for general deterrence, whilst also considering the defendant’s early plea of guilty, cooperation and absence of previous convictions. The defendant company's financial circumstances were also noted, however did not preclude the imposition of an appropriate fine.
In sentencing the directors of Brisbane Auto Recycling Pty Ltd, mitigating factors were relevant, including their early pleas of guilty and cooperation with the WHSQ investigation. The personal circumstances of the defendants, including the impact of any sentence upon their dependents, their age, their upbringing in Afghanistan, the prospect of deportation and their prior good character were also considered.