Defence fined $1 million over live-fire fatality

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.
Tuesday, 7 September, 2021 - 12:00
Incidents & prosecutions
Northern Territory

The Department of Defence has been convicted and fined $1 million under federal work health and safety laws over the death of a soldier during a training exercise in the Northern Territory.

The penalty is the largest recorded for the Commonwealth WHS jurisdiction.

Following an investigation by Comcare, Defence pleaded guilty in the Northern Territory Local Court to a single criminal charge, admitting it failed in its duties under the Commonwealth Work Health and Safety Act 2011 (WHS Act).

The matter was prosecuted by the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions and Judge Elisabeth Armitage handed down the sentence in the Northern Territory Local Court.

The charge relates to a live-fire exercise involving the Army’s 5th Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment, where 25-year-old Private Jason Challis suffered a fatal gunshot wound.

The incident happened at the Mount Bundey Training Area, southeast of Darwin, on 10 May 2017.

Defence pleaded guilty to the charge in May 2021, admitting it failed to provide a safe system of work for the exercise. This included not providing adequate risk assessments, training and briefings, and failing to mark dangerous spaces at the training site where participants could be exposed to live fire.

Comcare’s general manager of regulatory operations Justin Napier said the risks associated with the training exercise were substantial and foreseeable.

“Defence had a range of measures available that would have minimised or eliminated the obvious risks associated with an inherently dangerous activity,” Napier said.

“The tragic outcome highlights the seriousness of work health and safety breaches. There were multiple aspects of the exercise which made the risk of death or serious injury foreseeable.”

Defence was convicted of a Category 2 offence under section 32 of the WHS Act – exposing a person to the risk of death or serious injury. The maximum penalty was $1.5 million.