A Queensland business owner could be jailed for up to 20 years, after becoming the first individual to be charged with industrial manslaughter since the offence was enacted in the State in late 2017. His business has been charged with category-2 WHS breaches.
Queensland Work Health and Safety Prosecutor recently announced that they had charged an individual, being a company director of the business, with one offence under section 34C ("Industrial manslaughter–person conducting business or undertaking") of the State Work Health and Safety Act 2011.
It is alleged that in July last year, the business owner negligently caused the death of a worker at his business premises.
It is understood the owner was involved in overloading a forklift, which subsequently flipped over and struck the worker.
Shortly after the incident, Workplace Health and Safety Queensland issued an alert stating that a worker had been fatally crushed by a portable generator being unloaded from a truck by a forklift.
The business conducted the repair of generators and electric motors.
The business owner faces a maximum penalty of 20 years' imprisonment.
It is understood that a second party, a company, has also been charged with an offence under the Act arising from the same incident.
It is understood that the company operating the business was charged with breaching sections 19 ("Primary duty of care") and 32 ("Failure to comply with health and safety duty–category 2") of the WHS Act, which carried a maximum penalty of $1.5 million.
Queensland prosecutors recently secured Australia's first industrial manslaughter conviction against a body corporate also in the motor trade industry.
That company was fined $3 million from a maximum available penalty of $10 million, while its two directors were handed suspended prison sentences for reckless conduct, in relation to the May 2019 death of a contract worker in a forklift incident.
The Hon. Tammy Franks MLC introduced a private member’s bill late last year into the South Australian Parliament, seeking to introduce an industrial manslaughter provision into the WH&S legislation. The current Government has confirmed they will not support the bill, and without such support, it is unlikely to progress.
While safety is of paramount importance in the workplace, and it is likely that an offence of industrial manslaughter will eventually form part of our law, it is important that such legislation be carefully considered and balance all duties and interests.
While South Australia has not introduced industrial manslaughter laws, it does apply in the Northern Territory. In either case, there are serious consequences for breaches of WH&S laws, and the cases confirm that we operate in a high risk industry.
If you have any questions about WH&S compliance, have had an incident, or been contacted by an Inspector, contact the WR team on (08) 8291 2000 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.