On 11 June 2020, in the Brisbane District Court, Australia’s first conviction and sentence for industrial manslaughter was handed down. The defendant, Brisbane Auto Recycling Pty Ltd, had on 3 April 2020 entered a guilty plea to one offence contrary to s34C of the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 ("the Act").
The conviction related to an incident in May 2019 at a wrecking yard in Rocklea, Brisbane, in which a worker suffered fatal injuries when a forklift was reversed, crushing him between the forklift and a stationary tilt-tray truck. The investigation into the incident by Workplace Health and Safety Queensland (WHSQ) and Queensland Police revealed that the business had no documented safety systems and that the driver of the forklift was unlicensed.
Guilty pleas were also entered by the company’s two directors to Category 1 charges of reckless conduct under s.31 of the Act. Each failed in their duty to exercise due diligence to ensure the corporate defendant complied with its safety obligations under the Act.
Brisbane Auto Recycling Pty Ltd was convicted and fined $3M. The directors were each convicted and sentenced to 10 months imprisonment, wholly suspended for 20 months.
In sentencing, His Honour Judge Rafter SC held that the moral culpability of each defendant was high.
"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," Judge Rafter said.
Work Health and Safety Prosecutor, Mr Aaron Guilfoyle, commended the investigation by WHSQ investigators.
"The investigation into this matter by WHSQ was thorough and prompt. The efforts of the WHSQ lead investigator, working alongside the OWHSP Principal Prosecutor, has seen the defendants in this matter brought to justice," Mr Guilfoyle said.
Mr Guilfoyle also noted that the substantial penalties imposed reflected both the very serious nature of the offending and the need to protect workers and others from workplace injuries and fatalities.
"This offending of the defendant company was of the most serious nature and resulted in the tragic loss of life. The conduct of the directors and their company fell well short of the standard required and rightly expected in modern Queensland workplaces," Mr Guilfoyle said.
"Over an extended period, the directors knew that their workers were at risk of serious injury or death, and consciously disregarded that risk.
"The result in this matter should send a clear message that businesses and officers who fail to comply with their duties under the Act and put their workers at risk face a very real risk of substantial monetary penalties and sentences of imprisonment."
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