In March 2022, Gympie business owner Jeffrey Owen was prosecuted under the Queensland Work Health and Safety legislation and found guilty of an industrial manslaughter offence. The Court ordered that Mr. Owen serve a term of imprisonment for 5 years suspended after 18 months.
The case against Mr. Owen was the first successful prosecution of Work Health and Safety Queensland since the industrial manslaughter provisions were enacted in 2017. Previously there has been one other successful case in Queensland against the company, Brisbane Auto Recycling Pty Ltd. However in that case the Directors, who were individually charged with recklessness had their terms of imprisonment wholly suspended.
Mr. Owen operated a business that involved the repair and maintenance of electrical items including generators. In July 2019 the Defendant, who was not licensed to operate a forklift, used a forklift to remove a generator that had been delivered to its business from the back of a truck. Tragically while moving the generator on the forklift, the generator fell on another worker resulting in his death. The worker was a volunteer and friend of the Defendant who was onsite to assist the Defendant that day.
Workplace Health and Safety undertook an investigation and as a result of the investigation, it was found that:-
- Mr. Owen was not licensed to operate a forklift, the business did not have any appropriate documentation including safety procedures or manuals on how to unload heavy equipment.
- The forklift had a lifting capacity that was not sufficient to unload the generator in question. The Defendant was negligent and did not make proper enquiries as to the weight of the generator. When it became apparent that the forklift’s lifting capacity was not appropriate and it could not lift the generator the Defendant persevered.
Workplace Health and Safety had concluded that there were other methods that were cost-effective to unload heavy equipment that also complied with work health and safety laws.
The Defendant pleaded not guilty and after a trial, he was found guilty as the jury was satisfied his conduct was negligent and that the conduct resulted in the death of a worker.
This decision is a timely reminder to ensure that your work method statements and practices are up to date. It is essential that all employees who operate machinery are licensed, have appropriate experience in operating machinery, and have documented health and safety training to ensure that these systems are in place and that they actually work.
If you have any concerns about your systems and processes or would like further information regarding these matters, please contact one of our experienced employment lawyers on (07) 4052 0700.