Jail time for workplace death

Public news

The director of a shed-building company has become the first person to be sentenced to serve a prison term under Western Australia's workplace safety and health laws.

MT Sheds (WA) Pty Ltd director Mark Thomas Withers was sentenced in the Esperance Magistrates Court on Monday to two years and two months' jail 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.

WorkSafe WA said the jail term of two years and two months is the longest term of imprisonment ever imposed for a work safety and health offence in Australia, while the eight-month immediate term is also the longest on record.

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, and it was on that charge that he was sentenced to imprisonment.

Other charges were that neither company director Withers nor the two employees 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.

MT Sheds was fined a total of $55,000 for breaches of the Occupational Safety and Health Regulations, while Withers was also fined $2250 for operating a crane without the correct licence.

WorkSafe WA said last year's fatal accident occurred as the two workers were installing roof sheets on a large machinery shed they were building on a farm without safety control measures in place.

A strong wind or willy-willy lifted a roof sheet from the pack of 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 that 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.

A Brisbane company last year became Australia's first entity to be convicted of industrial manslaughter, while its directors were handed 10 month suspended jail terms for their role in a worker's death.

The judge imposed a $3 million penalty out of a maximum $10 million on Brisbane Auto Recycling Pty Ltd for industrial manslaughter.

Employers and officers should be taking note of this decision and the attitude of regulators in bringing a prosecution of this type against an individual.

If members need assistance with WHS compliance, please contact the WR team on wr@mtasant.com.au, or on 8291 2000, or attend one of our WHS training sessions.