$3 million fine / Directors receive suspended sentences in first industrial manslaughter conviction

The following article is a news item provided for the benefit of the Workplace Health and Safety profession. Its content does not necessarily reflect the views of the Australian Institute of Health & Safety.
Monday, 29 June, 2020 - 13:00
Industry news
National News

Australia’s first conviction and sentence for industrial manslaughter was recently handed down in the Brisbane District Court which issued a $3 million company fine and suspended jail sentences to two company directors over an incident in which a worker was crushed by a forklift.

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.

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.

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 was convicted and fined $3 million while the directors were each convicted and sentenced to 10 months imprisonment, wholly suspended for 20 months.
In sentencing, His Honour Judge Rafter 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,” Judge Rafter said.
“Those steps were neither complex nor overly burdensome.”

Queensland Work Health and Safety Prosecutor, Aaron Guilfoyle, noted that the substantial penalties imposed reflected both the 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,” Guilfoyle said.

“The conduct of the directors and their company fell well short of the standard required and rightly expected in modern Queensland workplaces.

“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.”