A very recent Queensland District Court decision in R v Brisbane Auto Recycling Pty Ltd & Ors  QDC 113 is a reminder to all employers and their officers of their obligations under the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 (Qld).
On 11 June 2020 the District Court convicted and fined a company $3 million following the death of a worker at an auto wrecking yard in Brisbane. The Court also convicted and sentenced the company’s two directors to 10 months imprisonment, wholly suspended for 20 months, for category 1 reckless conduct.
The decision is a reminder of the significance of industrial manslaughter penalties in Queensland and other Australian jurisdictions and their potential relevance to the aviation industry.
On 17 May 2019, a worker employed by Brisbane Auto Recycling Pty Ltd (BAR) was struck by a forklift being driven by another worker. The worker subsequently died from his injuries.
The incident led to the first ever prosecution for industrial manslaughter under section 34C of the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 (Qld) (the Act), which makes it an offence for a person conducting a business or undertaking, or a senior officer, to negligently cause the death of a worker.
In Queensland, the offence of industrial manslaughter subjects a company to a maximum penalty of $10 million, and an individual to a maximum penalty of 20 years imprisonment. Equivalent legislation in Victoria (which commenced on 1 July 2020) provides for fines of up to $16.5 million for employers and fines of up to $1.65 million for individuals who cause the death of a worker or member of the public through negligent breaches of an OHS duty.
The Court found that BAR and its directors ‘failed to control the interaction of mobile plant and workers at the workplace, failed to effectively separate pedestrian workers and mobile plant, and failed to effectively supervise operations of moving plant and workers.‘ Accordingly, the Court held that a fine of $3 million (30% of the maximum) was appropriate to impose on BAR (noting that BAR did not have the capacity to pay any substantial fine).
This decision involved a ground based business with moving plant and equipment interacting with pedestrian personnel. It is directly relevant to airport, hanger and warehouse operations, and it illustrates the severity of the penalties for conduct that compromises safety and causes death. Those involved in the management of company operations should be very mindful of their safety procedures, oversight and education and review these at regular intervals to ensure that the risk of offending against legislation of this nature is minimised.
This article was written by Simon Liddy, Partner, James McIntyre, Special Counsel and Teilya Macfarlane, Graduate.