On 11 June 2020 Judge Rafter SC fined Brisbane Auto Recycling $3 million after it had pleaded guilty to the offence of industrial manslaughter under Queensland's Work Health and Safety Act. Significantly, this is the first conviction for industrial manslaughter in Queensland since the introduction of the offence in October 2017. Judge Rafter also sentenced the two company directors to 10 months imprisonment, wholly suspended, after they pled guilty to engaging in reckless conduct (category 1 offence).
The convictions relate to the death of a Brisbane Auto Recycling worker in May 2019. On 19 May 2019 an inexperienced and unlicenced worker was reversing a forklift when it struck the worker, pinning him against a truck. The worker died eight days following the incident as a result of the injuries sustained.
Judge Rafter determined that Brisbane Auto Recycling made 'no real attempt to control the threat posed by mobile plant.' This was on the basis that the company had not implemented any work health and safety systems to protect its workers against risks to their health and safety. The directors had only verbally instructed workers to 'work safely'. It was also held that measures that could have been taken to avoid the hazard were simple steps that were not costly to implement. As a result, the Court found the moral culpability of the company and the two directors was high.
In determining the appropriate penalty, Judge Rafter considered the nature and seriousness of the incident, the harm caused, the maximum penalties ($10 million for a body corporate for an industrial manslaughter offence and five years' imprisonment or $600,000 for reckless conduct by individuals), the need for deterrence, the assistance provided in the investigation, the guilty pleas entered and other mitigating factors. In relation to the directors, relevant factors included violent episodes that had occurred in their upbringing in Afghanistan, their cooperation during the Workplace Health and Safety Queensland incident investigation, and their potential risk of deportation from Australia. However, initial conduct engaged in by the directors after the incident that impeded the investigation was also considered.
Implications for Employers
These sentences demonstrate the significant potential liability that companies and their officers face should they fail to discharge their duties to manage risks to health and safety in the workplace. As shown by this matter, failure to have something as simple as a traffic management plan, and to ensure those using plant and equipment are properly trained, can have serious consequences.
All directors and officers should be taking steps to exercise due diligence to ensure their businesses and undertakings comply with work health and safety laws. We strongly advise businesses to review existing work health and safety processes, procedures and training to ensure these risks are adequately managed, and to ensure that legal advice in the event of a fatality is sought immediately.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.