First imprisonment under WA’s workplace safety and health laws

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.
Friday, 28 May, 2021 - 10:30
Industry news
National News
Western Australia

The director of a shed building company has become the first person to be sentenced to a term of imprisonment under WA’s workplace safety and health laws.

Mark Withers, director of MT Sheds (WA) Pty Ltd, was recently sentenced in the Esperance Magistrates Court to two years and two months’ imprisonment following the 2020 death of a young worker and the serious injury of another.

He is to serve eight months of the sentence immediately, with the remaining 18 months suspended for 12 months. He was also fined $2250 for operating a crane without the appropriate licence.

MT Sheds and Withers pleaded guilty to a total of seven separate charges including charges in relation to the death of Jake Williams and serious injuries to Fraser Pinchin in March last year.

The charges included one of gross negligence against MT Sheds, for which the company was fined $550,000.

Withers pleaded guilty to a charge that the company’s gross negligence offence occurred with his consent or was attributable to his neglect. It was on this charge that he was sentenced to imprisonment.

Other charges were that neither Withers nor either of the two employees involved in the incident held High-Risk Work Licences for work they were performing, and that MT Sheds allowed Jake Williams to do construction work when he did not hold a construction induction training certificate (“white card”).

MT Sheds was fined a total of $55,000 for these breaches of the OHS regulations.

The fines are the highest under the Occupational Safety and Health Act, following the McGowan Government’s increase in penalties for breaches of the workplace safety laws in 2018.

The term of imprisonment of two years and two months is the longest term of imprisonment ever imposed for a work safety and health offence in Australia, and the eight-month immediate term of imprisonment is also the longest immediate term ever imposed for a work safety and health offence in Australia.

On the day of the incident, the two workers were installing roof sheets on a large machinery shed they were constructing on a farm for agricultural purposes without safety control measures in place.

A strong wind or willy-willy lifted a sheet from the pack of roof sheets they were working near, causing them both to fall from a significant height.

Jake Williams fell approximately nine metres from the apex of the roof, suffering fatal injuries, while Fraser Pinchin fell around seven metres from the roof’s edge near the gutter line, suffering multiple fractures of the pelvis, hip, wrist and ribs.

WorkSafe WA Commissioner Darren Kavanagh said culpability for a work-related death did not get much worse than in this case.

“Mr Withers completely failed in every sense to provide a safe workplace for his employees, and as a consequence, a young man lost his life and a family lost a loved one,” he said.

“The State Government is committed to improving workplace safety laws, including ensuring that significant penalties are available to provide an incentive to comply with these laws and ensure that community expectations are met.