Vic company convicted, fined for industrial manslaughter

Thursday, 22 February, 2024

Vic company convicted, fined for industrial manslaughter

A stonemasonry business, LH Holding Management Pty Ltd, has been convicted and fined $1.3 million for workplace manslaughter, after causing the death of a worker who was fatally crushed at a Somerton factory. The company, trading as Universal Stone and Marble, pleaded guilty to a single charge of engaging in negligent conduct that constituted a breach of a duty owed to another person and caused their death.

The company’s sole director, Laith Hanna, was also convicted and placed on a two-year community corrections order to complete 200 hours of unpaid community work and a course in forklift operation after pleading 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, a contravention that was attributable to his failure to take reasonable care. The company and Hanna were ordered to pay $120,000 in compensation to the worker’s family for pain and suffering.

In October 2021, Hanna was operating a forklift with a raised load on a sloping driveway when the forklift tipped over and landed on top of a 25-year-old subcontractor. An investigation conducted by WorkSafe Victoria found that it was reasonably practicable for the company to reduce the risks by ensuring that the forklift was driven with the load as low to the ground as possible; driven in reverse down any slope or incline; only operated when other people were at a safe distance; and not driven across or turned on any slope or incline.

The company’s failure to ensure that the forklift was operated properly was negligent because it failed to meet the standard of care that would have been taken by a reasonable person in the circumstances. The company was prosecuted under section 39G(1) of the OHS Act, after Victoria introduced workplace manslaughter provisions in July 2020.

WorkSafe advises employers using mobile plants such as forklifts to ensure that they implement a traffic management plan, and that it is reviewed and updated as required. An effective communication system between operators and other workers must also be implemented, with signage and barriers erected where appropriate. Employers are also advised to identify and control any visibility issues, especially if the lighting is poor. Powered mobile plant must also be maintained and operated in accordance with manufacturer’s recommendations and operations manuals.

WorkSafe Executive Director of Health and Safety Narelle Beer said the worker’s death was entirely preventable. “There is no such thing as unavoidable workplace harm and the impact that a loss of life has on family, friends and colleagues can never be understated. This prosecution is a clear reminder to duty holders of the serious personal and financial consequences they face if they engage in activity that puts the health and safety of workers at risk,” Beer said.

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