A senior manager from a collapsed ACT company is being charged in relation to the death of an employee, in one of the first instances of a senior manager or company official being held accountable for workplace deaths under the recently harmonised national work health and safety laws.
The Canberra Times reports the ACT’s Director of Public Prosecutions is pursuing charges against Kenoss Contractors, which entered voluntary administration in 2013, as well as a senior official of the company in relation to the death of Michael Booth, a 48-year-old truck driver who died while working for the company.
While Kenoss Contractors has collapsed, the Canberra Times reports many of the company’s assets and personnel are believed to have been subsumed into a new company.
Under the harmonised work health and safety provisions, the maximum fine for an officer of a company is $300,000, while companies can be forced to pay up to $1.5 million.
According to the Canberra Times, Booth was electrocuted when the truck he was driving was tipped to offload gravel at a dumping station and the trailer touched a power line.
ACT Work Safety Commissioner Mark McCabe investigated the accident and told the Canberra Times the location of the dumping station was unsafe because of low power lines.
“You have to question why the dump was put in such a location,” he said. “They could have located it across the road well out of the reach of power lines.”
M+K Lawyers partner Andrew Douglas told SmartCompany the manager in this case is not being charged with a criminal offence for reckless endangerment and no decision has been made as to the personal liability of the manager.
Douglas says the big lesson from this case is that “under all safety legislation, managers can hold personal liability for failing to provide a safe place of work”.
Work health and safety legislation operates in a similar way across all Australian states and territories, and senior managers and company officials need to be aware that they are responsible for the safety of their employees, says Douglas.
“Mangers need to make sure they have a safety system with integrity and that they are satisfied it is working,” says Douglas.
“They also need to ensure supervisors are competent in safety and that safety is managed at a floor level,” he says. “And thirdly, they need to make sure they lead in safety, and that it isn’t treated as a secondary issue. It has the same level of importance as productivity.”