Recently, a Queensland company, Brisbane Auto Recycling Pty Ltd (BAR), was convicted of industrial manslaughter—a first for Australia. With the Victorian industrial manslaughter legislation expected to come into effect on 1 July 2020, this case highlights the need for company directors to be vigilant about safety systems, governance and training. Queensland’s industrial manslaughter laws were introduced through the Work Health and Safety and Other Legislation Amendment Act 2017 (QLD), and took effect on 23 October 2017.

The two directors of Brisbane Auto Recycling were convicted under the QLD Work Health and Safety Act and were sentenced to 10 months imprisonment (wholly suspended for 20 months) and the company was fined $3 million dollars. 

The charge was that Brisbane Auto Recycling caused the death of their worker by failing to effectively separate pedestrians from the mobile plant, and failed to adequately supervise workers, including the operators of the mobile plant. The charges followed a tragic incident where a worker was struck by a forklift in Brisbane Auto Recycling in their Rocklea wrecking yard on Friday, 17 May 2019. The worker died from his injuries a few days later, on 25 May. Brisbane Auto Recycling had in place only verbal safety instructions and the operator of the forklift was unlicensed and unskilled-- a fact of which the company directors were unaware. The court heard "The defendants had no safety systems in place, in particular there was no traffic management plan.  Steps to prevent the incident involved only minor inconvenience and little, if any, cost.”

This case highlights the significance that regulators attach to the duties of those who govern the organisation. Boards and directors need to appreciate their exposure to personal liability and that they may be held individually responsible for breaches of serious criminal offences arising from the conduct of their business.

The Victorian bill that comes into effect on 1 July 2020, provides that a person (including an officer) must not engage in conduct that is negligent, involves a breach of an occupational health and safety duty under the Vic Act and causes the death of a person. Conduct is deemed to be negligent if it involves a great falling short of the standard of care that would have been taken by a reasonable person in the circumstances and involves a high risk of death or serious illness or injury. Maximum penalties for workplace manslaughter in Victoria are up to 20 years’ imprisonment and fines of up to $16.5 million.

Master Builders Victoria will be holding a series of webinars on this topic and we encourage you to attend and understand your obligations. You can also contact our industrial relations team at MBV on (03) 9411 4555 if you have any questions.