First jail sentence for breach of work health & safety duty

  • A 72 year old woman has been jailed over a workplace accident that resulted in the fatality of a worker.
  • Employers are being warned of increasing penalties for heath and safety failures.

This ruling has been noted as a “significant development” for employers and employees, due to jail sentences for WHS (work health and safety) breaches being traditionally suspended.

Special counsel Sam Jackson and senior associate Gina Carosi from Sparke Helmore Lawyers recently stated in an article on this matter:

“We are not aware of any other person having previously received a non-suspended custodial sentence for a breach of a WHS duty provision in any Australian jurisdiction,”

“Individuals in Queensland and Victoria have previously received suspended custodial sentences for breaching WHS duty provisions, and individuals have received custodial sentences after being charged with manslaughter following serious workplace incidents.”

Although the case is currently subject to appeal, according to the article, the case “adds further weight” to the belief that penalties are increasing “significantly” for safety failures.

It was also noted that Western Australia and Victoria have both increased the maximum penalties for workplace safety breaches.

So, what happened?

Maria Jackson was the 72 year old owner of a scrap metal business in southern Victoria.

The business, owned by Ms Jackson, was the site of a fatal accident on 18 February 2017 where scrap metal was being transferred from a 1.8 metre metal bin into a six-metre metal bin.

The regulator, WorkSafe Victoria, said that Ms Jackson had been operating a forklift at the site without a licence with the 1.8 metre bin raised approximately three metres off the ground with an employee inside.

The raised bin was in poor condition, had not been adequately secured to the forklift and the load was unbalanced and being operated on uneven ground. The deceased had been riding on the forklift tynes when the bin and the worker fell from the tynes, a distance of approximately three metres, with the bin striking the worker resulting in the fatality.

Ms Jackson pleaded guilty to charges of failing to provide a safe system of work and recklessly engaging in conduct that placed another person in the workplace in danger of serious injury.

Latrobe Valley Magistrates Court issued its judgment on 19 December 2018, in which it sentenced her to pay $10,000 for the s24 offence, and six months’ jail for the s32 offence as well as an order for her to pay costs of a further $7,336.

Ms Jackson is appealing the sentence.

Penalties are increasing

Recent data published by Safe Work Australia shows that despite there being a decrease of 24% in the number of WHS prosecutions there has been an increase of 8% in WHS fines. This trend is expected to continue in 2019.

The importance of having confidence that your workplace is safe can not be underestimated. For an independent review, please contact the team at S3 Safety Group to arrange a workplace WHS inspection or WHS Management system review.

The original article posted by Sparke Helmore can be found here

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