News Article

Victoria's first industrial manslaughter conviction highlights workplace safety lessons

05 March 2024

In a landmark legal decision, a masonry business was fined $1.3 million for violating workplace safety laws, leading to the death of an employee at a factory. This case marks Victoria's first conviction under the State’s industrial manslaughter laws, setting a precedent for the seriousness with which breaches of duty of care are treated.

The company was found guilty in the Victorian Supreme Court engaging in negligent conduct that constituted a breach of a duty owed to another person and caused their death, following their admission of guilt to a charge related to breaching safety duties.

The company's director, aged 46, received a conviction and was sentenced to a two-year Community Corrections Order, which includes 200 hours of unpaid community work and a forklift operation course.

The Director of the company, pleaded guilty to a single charge under section 144(1) of the Occupational Health and Safety Act for being an officer of a company that committed workplace manslaughter, solely attributable to a failure to take reasonable care.

In addition to being fined $1.3 million, both the company and its director were ordered to compensate the deceased worker's family with $120,000 for their pain and suffering.

The incident, in October 2021, saw a 25-year-old subcontractor lose his life after being crushed by a forklift, which tipped over while being improperly operated on a sloping driveway.

A WorkSafe investigation found the company could have reduced the risk of serious injury or death by ensuring that the forklift was driven with the load as low to the ground as possible, driven in reverse down slopes or inclines, only operated when other people were at a safe distance, and not driven across or turned on any slope or incline.

Justice Michael Croucher pointed out that the act of negligence was brief, noting the director's attempt to ensure the subcontractor's safety by instructing him to move away from the forklift's path—a belief that the subcontractor had moved before the vehicle reversed and tipped. Yet, Justice Croucher emphasised, "it was still incumbent" on both the director and the company to cease forklift operations immediately to guarantee the subcontractor's safety.

This case not only reflects the legal consequences of safety failures but also serves as a poignant reminder of the human cost of such negligence. 

The broader implications for businesses are clear: workplace safety is paramount, and the legal, financial, and moral obligations to uphold it are non-negotiable. 

This incident demonstrates the critical need for employers to proactively manage risks by adopting a proactive safety culture, and ensuring that their operations do not endanger the health and safety of their employees. It is a stark reminder that workplace harm is preventable, and the duty to prevent it rests squarely on the shoulders of those in charge.

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