The industrial manslaughter law in Queensland
The industrial manslaughter provisions were added to the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 (WHS Act), the Electrical Safety Act 2002 (ES Act), and the Safety in Recreational Water Activities Act 2011 (SRWA Act) were introduced in response to the tragic fatalities at Dreamworld and an Eagle Farm work site in 2016. This prompted the Queensland government to undertake a ‘Best Practice Review of Workplace Health and Safety in Queensland’. The creation of the new offence of industrial manslaughter was one of 58 recommendations contained in the report produced by this review. Industrial manslaughter allows the criminal prosecution of owners and employers for workplace deaths.
Queensland’s first industrial manslaughter conviction
On 11 June 2020, Queensland saw its first sentence for an industrial manslaughter conviction with the Directors of a Brisbane Auto Recycling Pty Ltd fined $3 million and were given a suspended sentence of ten months jail after a worker died in an accident the previous year.
The charges followed a tragic incident on 17 May 2019, when Tiger Barry Willis, 58, was pinned between a forklift and a truck at Brisbane Auto Recycling. He subsequently died from his injuries on 25 May 2019. Brisbane Auto Recycling had a system of verbal safety instructions to workers. An investigation discovered that the operator of the forklift was unlicensed and unskilled, and should not have been operating the vehicle. The operator was later charged with the dangerous operation of a motor vehicle causing death.
Category 1 offences under the Work Health and Safety Act
The Brisbane District Court was told during earlier sentencing submissions that the Directors of Brisbane Auto Recycling had failed to provide a safe working environment as their company had no safety systems and no traffic management plan. This workplace had three forklift operators carrying car bodies and partial car bodies around the premises without physical barriers, stated the Work Health and Safety prosecutor Aaron Guilfoyle. The law requires that risks like this must be minimised so far as is reasonably practicable, and this could have been achieved through careful planning and controlling vehicle operations and pedestrian movements at the workplace.
Judge Rafter stated that a lesser penalty would have been inadequate to punish Brisbane Auto Recycling or adequately deter others. The two directors were convicted of Category 1 offences under the Work Health and Safety Act and sentenced to 10 months imprisonment, wholly suspended for 20 months. Judge Rafter added, “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.”
The absence of a Traffic Management Plan results in a fine of $3 million
Managing traffic is an important part of ensuring workplace safety and the most effective way to eliminate traffic hazards and protect pedestrians. This can be done by designing the layout of the workplace to eliminate interactions between pedestrians and vehicles.
The Key to managing traffic safety in the workplace
Key issues to consider for managing workplace traffic include:
- pedestrian safety
- pedestrians working with vehicles including forklifts and powered mobile plants
- using powered load shifting equipment
- the layout of the work area
- signs, warning devices, and visibility, and
- developing and implementing a traffic management plan.
Managing traffic hazards in the workplace requires control measures to be implemented. For example, overhead walkways or separate paths can ensure any vehicles and pedestrians are kept separate from each other. Or if this is not feasible, physical separation structures such as barriers and fences can help to lower the risk of interaction. The installation of distinct pedestrian doors is also vital at each vehicle entry and exit point, with clearly visible signage and instruction that can be easily understood.
The industrial manslaughter law was introduced to save lives
The Minister for Industrial Relations, Grace Grace, stated that the industrial manslaughter law in Queensland was introduced to save lives and ensure all Queenslanders return home to their loved ones after a day’s work. She went on to say that increasingly elaborate corporate structures, had made it difficult to prosecute some employers for manslaughter. The new offence of industrial manslaughter would now ensure that all negligent employers culpable in workplace fatalities in Queensland would face severe penalties.
Directors and employers have a duty to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, that workers and others are not exposed to health and safety risks arising from business operations. This duty includes implementing control measures to prevent people from being injured by moving vehicles at the workplace.